Antalya, Life After the Fires
Photographer: Erdem Sahin
Further away from the more known fires at the touristic resorts of Marmaris and Bodrum, Turkey’s Antalya Manavgat district witnessed the country’s biggest fire disaster.
It all started on 28 July 2021 and took ten days to be brought under control but only after it burned some 60,000 hectares of forest, 59 villages or neighborhoods, and hundreds of houses. Seven people were killed and more than a hundred others were injured. Over 30,000 farm animals perished in the process as well.
The area mostly welcomes local tourists who come to enjoy nature especially after a hard year punctuated by lockdown and restriction periods depending on the highs and lows of the COVID pandemic.
The village of Demirciler, where about 20 houses were burned down, is one of the places where the damage is the most severe.
'An announcement was made for us from the mosque at 2 am to evacuate the village. I hadn't left my home until then. This place was like heaven. To what will I look at, when I look out of my window now?' said Fatma Sari, who lives in the village with her daughter.
Many people in Turkey had accused the government, which had mobilized all its resources in the region, of being inadequate in its response. 'There were no fire trucks. I tried to put out the blaze in the house myself with water bottles.' The imam of the village Ahmet Yilmaz said, 'The fire came so fast that we did not understand what was happening,' he added.
The heavy rains of 07 August finally came to the rescue putting an end to the disaster that seemed endless. Amid the ashes, charred daily life objects, the rubble of what has been and is no more, the men and women of the region are still under shock and try to see what is left to salvage from their former lives.
In Bucak, another village hit by the disaster, about 19 houses were completely burnt down, many of them were demolished by the state officials because they were deemed unsafe.
Fatma Gullu, whose house was burnt and destroyed, now lives with her mother Cemile Gullu. They used to make a living from raising poultry, but half of their chickens have perished: 'If they had not evacuated us, we would have died here anyway. I've seen many fires, but I've never seen one like this. In the fire, the flames and smoke rose upwards, but this fire moved quickly from the ground. Our chickens perished, dozens of olive and pomegranate trees and vegetable gardens were destroyed,' Cemile Gullu said.
The houses damaged in the fire are marked and then demolished by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization teams. Minister Murat Kurum said that the TOKI (Housing Development Administration of Turkey) will build new houses to replace the demolished ones. However, the villagers say that they do not know yet what will be the financial implication for the rebuilding of those houses. Meanwhile, many of them stay in temporary container habitations or with relatives.
It is not known how many wild animals living in the forest died in the fires, but about 33,000 farm animals perished. A field veterinary hospital was established by HAYTAP (The Federation of the Animals Rights in Turkey) in the center of Manavgat city.
About 30 veterinarians and hundreds of volunteers work around the clock. Sheep, covered in mosquito nets to protect their wounds from flies, lay there in the shade trying to recover, and various animals such as cats, dogs, owls, and cows have been treated or are still being treated there.
'There are currently 50 animals under treatment. Most of them are sheep. We are closely monitoring six sheep in serious condition. Volunteers are sleeping with them. We try to do our best,' veterinary technician Merve Gulistan Aydyn said.
Although Manavgat inhabitants know that the green trees and fauna that used to surround them will take much longer to recover than rebuilding the houses and acquiring new farm animals, they hope for this difficult time to pass and their lives to resume in some way or another.