‘My house is burning, oh my God’: Villagers tell of devastation as Turkey hit by worst fires in a decade
The ferocity of the fires in Turkey is quite something to behold.
We watched, along with the residents of the pretty seaside town of Cokertme on the Aegean coast, as the crackling dry forests around the community were devoured within minutes.
The village appeared to be surrounded. We watched as fire engines reversed and screeched away – as firefighters used loudspeakers to bellow at the residents to run. Behind them was a huge sheet of flames heading their way.
Tackling the fires which have broken out across nearly 40 (of the 81) provinces has proved to be a much harder task than anticipated.
The firefighters and authorities have had to contend with searingly high temperatures – peaking at more than 40C (104F) for most of the week.
On 20 July, the temperature reached a staggering 49.1C (120.38F) in Gizre in the southeast of the country. And the high temperatures are forecast to continue for at least another week.
The fires are thought to be the worst in at least a decade – with some forestry managers we spoke to describing them as the most devastating since the 1940s.
There has been particularly low humidity which has contributed to the dryness as well as strong sea winds which have exacerbated the fire hazards.
A number of scientists blame these extremes on climate change but on top of these environmental factors, there’s been heavy criticism of the Turkish leader, President Erdogan, for not having sufficient firefighting aircraft to cope.
And exactly what started them is not yet clear although arsonists are being blamed for some.
But once the fires started, it’s been a monumental battle to try to bring them under control with even Mr Erdogan admitting the country did not have an adequate firefighting air fleet.
These contributing factors are no comfort at all to the terrified citizens battling to save their homes, livestock, pets, businesses and farmland.
“My house is burning, my house, my house…oh my God,” was all one woman could say to us when we came across her in Cokertme. Minutes earlier she’d been screaming at the firefighters, cursing them for not arriving soon enough.
Villagers have been fighting the fires themselves, any way they can…. sometimes resorting to pouring bottles of water around the perimeter of their homes – or drawing buckets of water from private wells to try to keep the ground cool.
One woman, Tugce Ulualan told us: “The state isn’t helping us. If the villagers weren’t here, it would be even worse. There aren’t enough firefighters. There are no planes. There are no helicopters.”
In fact, the forestry ministry has outlined on its website that it has 13 planes, 45 helicopters, 9 drones and 828 firefighting vehicles. International help has arrived in the form of air support from first Russia as well as Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Iran.
Only later as the fires continued unabated has help been accepted from European countries such as Spain and Croatia.
We saw a Russian helicopter repeatedly drop buckets of water over fires in the village as the fires gained in strength and momentum.
Residents ran in columns carrying fire hoses under their arms and up the hill near the village’s graveyard to try to beat back the flames lapping at the edge of their back gardens.
“Hadi! Hadi!” (Hurry! Hurry!) one man shouted at his neighbours. A woman near him sobbed audibly as she heaved a curled-up fire hose over a barbed fence.
“We were not prepared (as a country)….we were not prepared at all,” a young man who gave his name as Cem Akin told us. “I feel very tired and helpless. We can’t do anything. Our houses are burning. Our forests are burning – and there’s nothing we can do.”
There’s a collective anger and despair running through the country as fast as the fires which seem to be eating up the nation’s forest.
Around a staggering 95,000 hectares of forest have been devastated so far this year. And as soon as they seem to get the fires under control, more break out.
Turkey has already been badly hit economically because of coronavirus and a slump in its tourism industry. Its citizens are going to suffer even more now.
Other credits: Cameraman Kevin Sheppard, and producers Chris Cunningham and Guldenay Sonumut.
Turkey election: President Erdogan declared winner with more than 52% of vote
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the presidential run-off election, with leaders from around the world congratulating him.
With 99% of the votes counted, Mr Erdogan, who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, won with a share of 52.1%.
It means he has secured a record-breaking third term as president and will serve at least five more years in power.
Turkey election latest
Erdogan thanks crowds as election officials declare him winner
Polls closed at 5pm local time (3pm BST) and while votes were counted fast, for hours it remained too close to call. At one point, less than a percentage point separated the incumbent from his rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Shortly after 8pm local time (6pm BST) Mr Erdogan stepped out of his home and thanked people for “giving us the responsibility to rule for the next five years”.
He has been congratulated by a host of world leaders. Among them, Vladimir Putin, who wrote a lengthy message to Mr Erdogan, which concluded: “From the bottom of my heart I wish you new successes in such a responsible activity as the head of state, as well as good health and well-being.”
French President Emmanuel Macron also sent well-wishes, as well as reiterating the “immense challenges” both countries face.
“The return of peace to Europe, the future of our Euro-Atlantic Alliance, the Mediterranean Sea,” he tweeted.
“With President Erdogan, whom I congratulate on his re-election, we will continue to move forward.”
Opponent refuses to admit defeat
Kemal Kilicdaroglu took the stage earlier this evening, and in a rousing speech, he refused to admit defeat.
“I wasn’t able to defend your rights,” Kilicdaroglu began by saying. “I did not shirk against an unjust structure, I could not be a silent devil and I was not.
“I could not stand quiet against millions of people becoming second-class citizens in this country.
“I could not let them stand all over your rights. For your children to go to bed hungry. For farmers to not to be able to produce. I could not allow these things.”
He concluded by thanking the 25 million people who voted for him – and says the “battle continues”.
First presidential run-off in Turkey’s history
The pair were forced to go head to head when neither reached the required 50% of the vote in the first round on 14 May and Mr Erdogan’s win will have profound consequences for Turkey, and the wider world.
The two candidates offered sharply different visions of the country’s future and its recent past.
Mr Erdogan’s government vetoed Sweden’s bid to join NATO and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Turkey from a US-led fighter-jet project. But it also helped broker a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.
Meanwhile, Mr Erdogan’s 74-year-old challenger promised to restore a more democratic society.
Sudan conflict: Pregnant woman and baby killed in shooting – but husband left unaware
Men in crisp white thobes sit on mats under a leafy thorn tree carefully cutting pieces of white material.
They slowly stitch them together with tender, experienced precision.
Another shroud for another life lost to senseless violence.
More men arrive and they raise their hands in prayer to grieve the recently deceased.
The latest victim of the militias terrorising their community lies in a two room morgue a few metres away.
Fatma was eight months pregnant and travelling on a cart with her young son and daughter to Hajr Hadeed in eastern Chad.
She left her husband in the violence of al Geneina, the state capital of West Darfur in Sudan, where fleeing residents are reporting a citywide massacre.
Fatma’s sister Zeinab says her five-year-old nephew El-Sheikh was holding his pregnant mother’s body when the cart arrived in the village.
She rushed with close relatives to Adre Central Hospital.
They could feel the heaviness of Fatma’s body, but held out hope that the baby in her belly was still alive.
Hospital workers were cleaning the blood from the floor when they arrived at Dr Mahmoud Adam’s office.
He said Fatma was dead when she arrived and was quickly able to ascertain that the baby too had died.
“Since the war in Khartoum started so many wounded civilians are passing through the border from Darfur,” said Dr Mahmoud, whose hospital now has treatment tents operated by the medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in its grounds.
He recalls the 2003 genocide and observes there is little difference between then and now.
“It is so sad that to see people dying and suffering like this,” he said.
We walk over to the morgue where Fatma lies covered on a cement slab.
“She was shot in the back of the head,” he said.
Dr Mahmoud believes she died instantly.
Read more on Sudan crisis:
Scale of destruction in before and after images
The fighting explained
Zeinab sits under a tree just outside the morgue building.
Her eyes are wet and wide and every couple of minutes she muffles her sobs with her dark tobe.
Fatma’s small children lie silently across her lap.
More family arrive from their village as the body is prepared for burial.
Zeinab is handed different phones as family from across the region call to extend their condolences.
One call that doesn’t come is from Fatma’s husband Adam in al Geneina where telecommunications have been down for more than a week.
The only information from there is coming from the fleeing residents who have safely made it across the violence-ridden region.
The city ‘is on fire’
They say the city is on fire and that there are too many deaths to count.
Deep in the al Geneina blackout, Adam is still unaware that his wife and unborn child have been killed.
No one can reach him to deliver the news.
Fatma emerges from the morgue wrapped in the white shroud.
She’s lifted onto the back of a military grade Toyota pick-up by the men from her family as wailing rings out from the crowd of women.
Dread and panic
The cries carry more than just loss, but notes of dread and panic.
The fearful anticipation that there is more grief to come.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay rules out new pay offer for nurses despite ‘constructive’ meeting with RCN chief
Health Secretary Steve Barclay held a “constructive” meeting with Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief Pat Cullen – but made clear that a new pay offer for nurses will not be forthcoming.
Ms Cullen previously recommended the members of her union accept the deal agreed with the government, but it was rejected by members.
However, the offer was imposed because a majority of the NHS Staff Council body wanted to take the deal – despite the opposition from the RCN.
‘Manifestly wrong’ for MPs to claim driving fines back on expenses
Speaking to Trevor Phillips, who was hosting Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News, Mr Barclay was asked about a recent summit with Ms Cullen.
He said they “had a very constructive meeting this week” – but described what was offered previously and accepted by the NHS Staff Council as a “full and final” offer.
This offer amounted to a 5% pay rise, plus a cash top-up.
Currently, the RCN is balloting over whether to take further strike action, with close to 30,000 members taking part in the vote.
Ms Cullen said previously: “Once again, we have been forced to ask our members if they want to take to the picket lines in their fight for fair pay.
“This is unfinished business and the government can get it resolved without the need for more strike action.”
The cost of living crisis saw the RCN take part in nationwide industrial action across England for the first time in its history.
After other health unions also took action, Unison, GMB, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and the Royal College of Midwives were all among those who in the end voted to accept the pay increase offered by the government.
Demands aren’t ‘legally possible’
Speaking about the deal, Mr Barclay told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “It means a band six, entry-level nurse gets over £5,000 over the two years – recognising the huge, valuable contribution that NHS staff have made.
“Now what some in the RCN are asking us to do isn’t legally possible.
“It’s not possible to give a band six nurse different pay to a band six midwife or a band six paramedic.”
Unite was another union which rejected the government’s offer.
Members at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, and the Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, last week announced they would be downing tools on 1 June – and junior doctors will be walking out for 72 hours on 14 June.
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The RCN leadership is encouraging its members to vote in favour of strikes.
While Mr Barclay said the pay element of the deal is closed, there is room for talks about issues like violence against staff and pension abatement, he added.
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