Wildfire in southwest Turkey rages; arson suspect detained

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ISTANBUL, June 23 (Reuters) - Firefighters battled a wildfire in southwestern Turkey from land and air on Thursday as high temperatures and winds fanned the blaze and dashed hopes it was contained, while authorities said they had detained a person in connection with the fire.

Scenes of burning woodland near the Aegean coastal resort of Marmaris sparked fears of a repeat of last year's fires that devastated tens of thousands of hectares (acres) across the region.

Reuters footage showed smoke billowing from hills and police water cannon vehicles helping firefighters as the blaze spread through the woodlands in the sparsely populated area.

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Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said one suspect had been detained in connection with the blaze, which started around 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Tuesday, adding the person had admitted to burning down the forest out of frustration due to family issues.

"We have had a suspect since this incident started," Soylu told reporters. "Police and the gendarme caught this person a short while ago. There were also two oil barrels at the scene."

Soylu said the suspect had set fire to the forest while intoxicated due to a commercial disagreement with his family.

Earlier, Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said he was hopeful there would be positive developments by late Thursday regarding the fire. He said humidity was higher on Thursday compared to a day earlier and that it was less windy, which would help efforts.

But the Mugla municipality said the wind was expected to pick up pace and that 2,881 hectares (7,119 acres) of land were damaged so far, according to unofficial figures.

On Thursday, 45 helicopters and 12 planes were tackling the fire and dropping water on the flames after pausing overnight.

Kirisci said 274 people were evacuated as a precaution and that some 2,600 people were working to contain the fire. A day earlier, he had said the fire was contained, but it later spread due to strong winds and hot weather.

Human-induced climate change is making heat waves more likely and more severe, scientists say.

Last summer's wildfires, most of which were also near Marmaris, were the most intense in Turkey on record, a European Union atmosphere monitor said last year, adding that the Mediterranean had become a wildfire hot spot.

President Tayyip Erdogan's government was criticised for being unprepared to fight the fires last year, especially due to a lack of planes and helicopters. It responded by saying the wildfires were the worst in Turkey's history.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said on Wednesday the government was "incompetent" and had not prepared for the fires since last year.

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Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Bernadette Baum

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