Turkish wildfires threaten historic sites, ancient city of Assos

Turkey’s General Directorate of Forestry is battling a much higher number of wildfires this year compared with 2023; at this time last year, the country had recorded 513 forest fires, 665 other fires, and nearly 1500 total acres burned. As recently as June 24, those numbers have grown to 1093 forest fires, 1029 other fires, and nearly 8300 acres burned.

Aljazeera reported that at least 11 people were killed and dozens hurt as wildfires burned through villages in southeastern Turkey. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca reported the deaths from the overnight blaze between the cities of Diyarbakir and Mardin on Friday. Seventy-eight people were injured, with at least five people in intensive care units.

The elevated fire activity has resulted in increased aerial firefighting. The directorate has deployed aircraft over 4600 times thus far to fight the 2024 fires, and pilots have dropped over 16,000 tons of water. The total is a far cry from last year’s numbers of just 1100 deployments and only 3500 tons of water dropped.

Turkish fire at Assos

Turkey’s wildfire season has recently received national attention as a fire threatens the ancient city of Assos. The fire has burned 90 percent of the historic area, according to an Agence France-Presse report in the New Straits Times. The fire ripped through the ruins of the ancient port city of Assos, founded in the 8th century BCE near the Dardanelles Strait.

Ninety percent of the historical site of Assos was burned, said Mesut Bayram, mayor of Ayvacik district.

Assos, built on andesite rocks, is famous for its agora, theater, sarcophagi, and Athena Temple, according to Turkey Tour Organizer. “Also, this is where the world-famous thinker Aristotle founded a philosophy school.”

The fire was likely caused by a smoldering cigarette; xix helicopters, two planes, and around 35 engines are fighting the fire.