Cement trucks and human chains: How Turkish citizens are mobilising to fight forest fires

Since the end of July, a wave of fires has touched the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.
Since the end of July, a wave of fires has touched the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. © Twitter/Instagram

The Mediterranean coast of Turkey has been ravaged by forest fires since the end of July, brought on by soaring temperatures, drought and strong winds. Thousands of residents and foreign tourists have had to flee from the blaze, which has caused eight people to lose their lives. Criticising the government for its inaction, residents of the affected region have mobilised themselves, using ingenious methods to fight the flames.

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Particularly violent fires have touched a number of countries in the eastern Mediterranean, namely Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, since the beginning of August. Unusually hot temperatures of up to 50°C have exacerbated the wave, which experts are blaming on climate change. Nearly 100,000 hectares have burned in Turkey in 2021, compared to the last decade's yearly average of 13,000.

More than 130 fires have been reported in Turkey since July 28, with nine of them still burning as of August 4, despite the deployment of 51 helicopters, 16 Canadair firefighting planes and 850 water tankers. The blaze has been particularly intense in the coastal provinces of Antalya, Adana, Mersin, Mugla and Osmaniye. Many people living in these densely populated provinces have been forced to leave their homes, while tourists visiting the region, a popular summer destination, have fled.

To slow down the spread of the flames and protect their homes, a number of Turks have decided to take matters into their own hands, acting alone or with local organisations. Several eyewitness videos have documented residents’ improvised firefighting efforts.

The Ruzgar Beton company has offered up some of their cement trucks, repurposed to hold water, which locals can use as "mobile fire fighting units," as seen in the two videos above.

Local residents have even dared to get up close to the flames. Famous Turkish actor Ibrahim Çelikkol picked up a firehose in a forest close to the city of Milas, where the blaze encroached on a coal-fired power plant. One of the actor’s friends filmed his efforts.

Turkish actor Ibrahim Çelikkol took part in the fight against the spreading fires in Mugla province.
Turkish actor Ibrahim Çelikkol took part in the fight against the spreading fires in Mugla province. © Instagram/Mustafa Sandal

Other famous inhabitants of the region, like actor Sahan Gökbakar, have taken on the role of citizen journalists, documenting the catastrophe. Gökbakar has been posting videos every day, chronicling the fire’s spread and local efforts to get it under control.

In the video above, a group of people form a human chain to run a firehose from several water tanks up to the flames. “Here, there is nothing but tractors… you see, the people here are trying to save the place all by themselves, the fire is just up [the hill],” Gökbakar explains.

Residents also used sand to try to extinguish the fire, as seen in the video below, taken in the village of Delikyol, in the Marmaris municipality. 

Mayors and local officials in the region, part of Turkey’s secular opposition, have been calling on federal authorities for assistance, condemning the lack of aid allocated to fighting the fires.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a televised interview, responded that local authorities were responsible for managing fires in inhabited areas. Earlier this week, he said that the blaze was started by arsonists from the PKK, an armed Kurdish guerrilla movement classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and France, among other countries.