Farmer Mevlüt Tarım says the furious fire that burned his cow alive, killed eight people and scorched vast swathes of Turkey was like an explosion.
“The fire happened in an instant,” the 67-year-old told AFP after managing to pull and push some of his screaming animals through pitch-black smoke and patches of burning turf encircling his farm.
He said he, too, was lucky to be alive.
“One of my cows died. It burned,” he recalled. “I had never seen anything like it. You can’t even call it a fire. It was really like a bomb.”
Tarım’s story is similar to those of other farmers as the deadliest and most destructive fires in generations rage across Turkey’s southern coast for a seventh day.
Thousands of farm animals have perished and huge chunks of lush forest coating the rolling hills have turned into skeletal sticks and ash.
The anguished farmers have been trying to direct their herds toward the relative safety of the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.
But guiding the panicked animals is difficult and the winds whipping up the firestorms around them are unpredictable.
And the exhausted firefighters dumping seawater on the flames from helicopters and dousing the wreckage with hoses are not always able to arrive in time to help farmers such as Tarım.
‘Not running away’
Lemis Sapır is a local insurance agent who felt it was his duty to stay put and help out any way he could.
“I didn’t feel like running away,” the 44-year-old said. “We are going to give all the help we can.”
Turkish social media have been filled with images of brave locals trying to put the fires out with everything from garden watering pitchers to tree branches.
Sapır said the burning town of Hisarönü on the Aegean Sea has received reinforcements from other regions.
“But because of the height of the mountains, which are steep, and the very thick forest, the firefighters can’t intervene,” he said.
“The air reinforcements are not strong enough. There are fires in too many places in Turkey at the moment and we can’t respond to them all.”
Turkey’s response to the disaster has turned a huge political scandal that has piled pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The opposition accuses the powerful Turkish leader of being too slow to accept offers of foreign assistance — including from regional rival Greece — and failing to properly maintain firefighting planes.
Erdoğan’s office counters that the entire emergency rescue force has been fully mobilized for days and calls claims of mismanagement “fake news” designed to make Turkey look weak.
Local store manager Yasemin Akkaya said this was not the time to play politics or argue about Turkey’s geostrategic might.
“This is not the time to be proud,” Akkaya said.
“We are a powerful country. Our people are strong. But I have my water cut off at home,” he said. “Do we need water? Yes, because the area of the fire is very large.”
Farmer Tarım shakes his head as he surveys the damage.
“Look around. It’s a disaster,” he said. “We are lucky to be alive.”