Hundreds of villagers and students evacuated and Çanakkale Strait closed as wildfire spreads

A wildfire that broke out in the northwest of Turkiye on Tuesday afternoon, 22 August, has led to at least 1,200 people from nine villages and a university campus being evacuated as a precaution.

Strong winds have fanned the fires overnight, causing them to spread more rapidly across Çanakkale Province.

Firefighting teams and more than two dozen fire-dousing aircraft have been dispatched to the area to help contain the fire, which has so far affected 1,500 hectares of land – half of it forest – according to Agriculture and Forestry Minister İbrahim Yumaklı.

Minister Yumaklı said nine houses in the path of the fire had been totally destroyed, but to date no fatalities or serious injuries had been reported.

Night gusts of 70 kilometres per hour had seen the fire travel more quickly, posing more challenges for the 2,700 firefighting personnel at the scene.

A decision was taken to evacuate residents of nine villages, along with students at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University.

“Currently, the flames haven’t reached the campus, but evacuation efforts have been carried out, “ said Cüneyt Erenoğlu, the Rector of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University.

“Technical teams are present on campus. Since the dormitories were evacuated, students have been relocated to other dormitories and hotels in the city,” the rector added.

There were fears too that the fire would reach Mehmet Akif State Hospital, however flames in a nearby forest appear to have been extinguished, preventing it from spreading to the hospital and surrounding residential areas.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca stated that a total of 83 people had been affected by the forest fire in Çanakkale. Of these, 14 were being treated by ambulance crews at the scene and 48 others had been taken to local hospitals.

The ministry had dispatched 74 ambulances and four search and rescue vehicles to the scene, the health minister added.

The Turkish authorities also ordered the Çanakkale Strait, which links the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, to be closed to maritime traffic in both directions to allow firefighting planes to take water from the sea.

According to Tribeca Shipping Agency, which offers services to boats docking in Turkish ports, 15 northbound and 19 southbound vessels were stranded on either side of the waterway overnight on Wednesday.

Minister Yumaklı hoped with improved weather conditions and less strong winds, the situation will aid firefighting efforts.


Main image, top, of firefighters battling a forest fire fanned by strong winds in Türkiye’s northwestern province of Canakkale, in the early hours of Wednesday 23 August 2023. Photo © by Xinhua/Shutterstock (14065895b)