* Fires set southern coastal areas ablaze for the eighth day
* Fanned by high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds
* Worst forest fires in years, 167 contained so far (adds comments from Minister, activist)
By Mert Ozkan
MILAS, Turkey, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Firefighters were fighting 16 forest fires across Turkey on Wednesday, including one near a coal-fired power plant, with high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds fanning the flames.
In the past eight days, 167 fires have been brought under control, said Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli. On Tuesday evening, he said 11 fires were still burning, but more fires had broken out.
Eight people have been killed in the worst forest fires in years and thousands have been evacuated, including tourists. Numerous fires broke out near the main resorts on the south coast.
A fire near a coal-fired power station east of Bodrum in southwest Turkey was still burning, local authorities said, after bringing the blaze under control hours earlier.
“A fire broke out again near the Kemerkoy power station,” Milas town hall said.
Environmentalists are concerned about the plant’s coal storage unit and air pollution if the fire reaches the facility.
“The authorities are refraining from informing the public of the extent of the threat. Noxious gases could spread through the atmosphere if the coal burns uncontrollably,” said environmental activist Deniz Gumusel.
The plant’s flammable material tanks were emptied as a precaution, a reporter from the Demiroren news agency said, and ditches were dug as a firebreak.
While most of the fires have been extinguished, local officials, including many from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), complained about the slow or insufficient response from the government.
Firefighting planes from Spain and Croatia joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan this week to fight the fires, after Turkey asked for European support.
Opposition parties have criticized President Tayyip Erdogan and his government for depleting firefighting resources over the years. Thousands of people have also taken to social media to ask Erdogan to step down, while others criticized the lack of resources and what they called inadequate preparations.
The government defended its response to the wildfires, saying its efforts were planned and coordinated. (Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Janet Lawrence)
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