Turkey’s forest fires trigger debate on fire-fighting aircraft capacity

Raging forest fires in Turkey have given rise to a debate between the opposition and the ruling party officials over whether Turkey’s related institutions have sufficient and suitable firefighting aircraft, the T24 news portal reported on Tuesday.

Since Sunday, the country has been facing four wildfires near popular holiday resorts, two in the southwestern province of Mugla and two in the western province of Izmir, which have ravaged some 500 hectares (over 1,200 acres) of land, according to Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli.

Opposition lawmakers and critics have accused the ministry of not deploying all existing means during the firefighting pointing to the fact that the fires in Izmir had only been brought under control 53 hours after erupting.

They were referring to the available aircraft at Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK).
Emin Korkmaz, chairman of the board of the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects Chambers (TMMOB), slammed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials for privatizing the firefighting works, claiming that aircraft were not used in the Izmir fires.

In response to the accusations, the minister Pakdemirli said THK’s six aircraft were not suitable for employment as three of them have damaged motors while the other three are leaking oil.

“If anybody knows how to get them started, they can go ahead and do so. Unfortunately, there is no squadron in Turkey as of today to serve us [in the fires]. They [critics] say that 20 aircraft are available in the THK hangars, but there is no such thing,” said the minister.

Pakdemirli also added that helicopters were technically more effective in firefighting when compared to the aircraft.

Atila Sertel, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the exact opposite that the aircraft were more efficient in fire extinction as they were using a foam system.

“The minister is not telling the truth. I have investigated [the case] with journalistic precision. The minister said that the THK’s aircraft were out of order. The THK officials, however, say there is no such thing,” said CHP’s lawmaker from the Izmir province.

Sertel called on the THK officials to announce that their aircraft were not damaged and called on the minister to resign.

Another Izmir lawmaker from the opposition center-right Good Party (IYI), Musavat Dervisoglu on Tuesday submitted a parliamentary inquiry, questioning the non-use of the THK planes in putting out the fires and the fire extinction tenders of the General Directorate of Forestry.

Last month, a total of 503 forest fires scorched 1,344 acres of land, the pro-government news website Haberturk said on Tuesday, citing the directorate.

THK is a non-profit organization with the aim of increasing public awareness and participation in aviation-related activities in Turkey.

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