Massive forest fires that blazed across four Turkish cities, have been brought under control, but the suspicion of arson is now being investigated after a PKK-affiliate claimed responsibility
Major fires exploded across Turkish cities on October 10, burning down approximately 400 hectares of forests, empty residential buildings and animals.
With the combined efforts of firefighters, the blaze has been taken under full control, according to the Minister Of Agriculture And Forestry.
Viral footage circulated on social media showing people running away from fires that strong winds had carried towards residential buildings. In the background, sirens blared. The governor of Hatay province first said a transformer fire could have caused the first spark, yet the sudden eruption of fires in different areas at the same time hinted at the possibility of sabotage.
“There have been many reports of people who have been spotted with jerry cans...We’re still investigating these claims but it’s not a coincidence that these fires erupted at different areas at the same time is not a coincidence,” Lutfi Savas, Governor of Hatay told TRT News on October 10. He also stated that there are signs pointing towards organised crime.
“Children of Fire Initiative”
Meanwhile, Children of Fire Initiative, a PKK affiliate group, claimed responsibility for the fires in a statement published on Nuce Civan, an online pro-PKK publication.
The PKK has been designated a terror organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.
It has been carrying out terrorist acts against the Turkish state since 1984, a couple of years after the group was founded.
This is not the first time the group has claimed responsibility for Turkish fires. It said it burnt hundreds of hectares of forests last year between July 11 and August 24 in 27 different arson attacks last year.
Meanwhile, a hashtag, #HatayiPKKYakti, “PKK burnt Hatay” began trending on Twitter.
Following the PKK-affiliate group’s statement, opposition HDP, a political party accused of having close ties to PKK claimed in a tweet that the fires were deliberately initiated with the intention of opening those areas for mining.
The Minister Of Agriculture And Forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli, denied the HDP’s allegation.
“I’d like to remind that forests are protected by the constitution. Zoning these burn forests for construction, opening these zones for mining or tourism are out of question.” he said.
Pakdemirli also confirmed the governorship is conducting a multidirectional investigation regarding the suspicions that these were deliberate attacks.
“Four suspects were taken under custody and two of them were released by the prosecutor and we have two more suspects,” he said.
Civil initiative to prevent the forests fires
While firefighter teams were dispatched around the country to affected provinces, some civilians were reportedly committed to preventing new fires as they stood on guard duty around the forests.
In Iskenderun, youngsters who had waited all night in the Iskenderun-Belen highway, close to a forest, reported that they saw someone trying to set the trees ablaze, but ran away at the moment they realised their cover had been blown. This was reported by BBC Turkish, however, when police searched the area, they were not able to find any evidence of this.
A well-known wildlife expert and bird watcher, Emin Yogurtcuoglu, called on people to be on duty in fields as he visited Hatay to observe the impacts of the fires.