August 1, 2008 / 9:14 AM / 11 years ago

Turkish forest fires threaten ancient sites

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish fire fighters backed by a dozen aircraft struggled on Friday to extinguish fires engulfing woodlands in the coastal tourism province of Antalya and threatening sites of ancient culture, authorities said.

A villager stands in front of a destroyed house at the village of Akbas, which was engulfed by flames, during a forest fire in Turkey's Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya August 1, 2008. Turkish fire fighters backed by aircraft are trying to contain fires that may destroy as much as 4,000 hectares (9,885 acres) of woodland in the coastal tourism province of Antalya, authorities said. REUTERS/Anatolian/Okan Ozer

The fires could destroy up to 4,000 hectares (9,885 acres) of woodlands in Antalya if they are not contained, they said. No deaths or injuries have been reported, but television images showed destroyed houses and fleeing villagers.

Flames were approaching an ancient Greek amphitheatre in Aspendos, 37 km (23 miles) from the Mediterranean resort of Side, Antalya Forest Directorate spokesman Aydogan Turedi said.

Antalya has some of the richest remains of Greek civilization in Turkey and is the nation’s top tourist destination receiving about 7 million tourists each year, mostly during the summer period.

“There are some tourist areas that are four to five kilometers (miles) away from the fire, but we don’t think they are in danger,” said Turedi, adding that winds were blowing in the direction of other resort areas.

“The starting point of the fire was just near a stream which tourists use for rafting,” he said.

Five villages had been evacuated and four of them were seriously damaged by the fires, spurred on by heavy winds.

“I have nothing left,” cried an old woman as smoke billowed from a nearby house.

Civil defense teams arrived in the village of Karatas on Friday to search for two families believed to have been lost in the blaze, state-run news agency Anatolian reported, but no deaths had yet been confirmed.

The cause of the fires was not immediately known.

STRONG WINDS

Seven planes and five helicopters were being used to fight the blaze but strong winds and excessive heat were making it difficult to get the flames under control.

“This is one of the biggest fires in Antalya’s history in terms of area affected but definitely the biggest area in terms of damage it has caused,” Turedi said.

“It could affect an area of 4,000 hectares ... We cannot clearly define the area (destroyed) because of heavy smoke.”

Television images showed houses destroyed and families running away from flames as they engulfed a village.

Roads were clogged with cars and trucks as locals sought to escape the area.

“The fire spread really quickly and there was nothing that could be done about it. Now the whole village is burning,” a distraught man told CNN Turk.

Writing by Paul de Bendern; editing by Peter Millership

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