Over 600 people rescued as Greece, Turkey battle huge forest fires

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TURKEY/ GREECE:
Turkish authorities battling the country’s worst-ever wildfires have been accused of failing to prepare for the threat after official data showed they spent only a fraction of the modest funds budgeted to prevent forest fires this year.
Meanwhile, over six hundred people were evacuated by boat from an island near Athens as Greece braced for a fourth day of wildfires on Friday with emergency services forecasting strong winds and searing temperatures.
Eight people have been killed in the fires which have swept through Turkey’s southwestern coastal regions, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people including tourists and briefly threatening to engulf a power plant.
In the last two weeks, fires in Turkey have burnt more than three times the area affected in an average year, a European fire agency said.
Neighbouring countries have also battled blazes fanned by heatwaves and strong winds.

Turkey’s state forestry agency said that in the first half, it spent less than 2% of the 200 million lira ($24 million) it had set aside this year for construction, projects and equipment used to fight forest fires.

In contrast, Portugal budgeted 224 million euros ($265 million) to prevent and combat forest fires this year, and Spain’s central government budgeted 65 million euros.

While countries may measure allocations differently, opposition politicians said the data published by Turkey’s General Directorate of Forestry (OGM) showed Erdogan’s government disregarded a predictable danger.

“The OGM budget was planned as if there wasn’t going to be any fires,” said Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Murat Emir, who filed parliamentary questions to the Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli on Tuesday.

“These figures show why there has not been effective intervention against the fires,” Emir said, adding the ministry had been “caught unprepared”.

The ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters questions about the spending, and it was not clear if other resources were allocated for forest fire protection apart from the forestry directorate budget.

The government has blamed the lack of resources on the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK), saying it failed to maintain a fleet of firefighting planes despite generous funding.