Thursday, July 31, 2008


Hanging the washing yesterday at 11.30 am I noticed the planes circling overhead. It wasn't the fighter jets as usual but small propeller planes that look like they were left over after the WWII. I expect the propellers to be wooden looking at their flimsy structure. They belong to the Turkish Aviation Foundation and spend the summer in Canakkale, waiting to be called up if a forest fire starts. They fly over occasionally but this time all four of them are circling behind the house. Must be a drill I thought and shout to the kids to take a look.

Then I see the helicopter. It is Ukranian rented by the Forest Fire Brigade, we see it on the ground at the Forest Fire Post as we pass on the bus into town. Must be a drill. But even as I repeat this the helicopter drops beneath the treeline beyond the Jandarma camp. It fills its bucket from the Dardanelles. It rises again from behind the trees, flys above the house and up towards the ridge behind us. A few minutes later it returns and repeats the procedure. This is no drill.

Looking behind the house the smoke billows slowly, blown by the strong wind. We walk up to the corner of the complex but see very little through the trees and olive groves. The smoke is rising from below the ridge that the wind turbines are on. From then on it grows continuously. A few of the neighbours arrive, curious about the aerial activity and worried by the smoke. One prays, pacing and muttering under her breath.

By lunchtime, the ridge is barely visible beneath the smoke cloud. Fire brigades and bulldozers pass on the main road from Canakkale, Lapseki, Eceabat and Mahmudiye.

By 2.00pm, the ridge is hidden in smoke as the fire moves south through the valley. The number of helicopters is increasing from the original two to four and eventually six. Our electricity is cut off sometime after this.

By 3.30pm the main Izmir road is closed. A seaplane owned by Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi has joined the other planes, drenching the valley below the ridge in seawater, circling, filling up and repeating.

On the way home from work my husband is stopped twice by roadblocks. He is allowed to continue given the warning that he should evacuate his house. Shocked by the fire on the ridge behind he is surprised at how little we can see from the house. Around 6pm all the planes and helicopters focus behind the house, towards Cinarli. The seaplane and helicopters all refill in front of the Jandarma camp and fly straight over the house. If the wind changes there is a chance the fire could come towards us. The noise is intense from the low flying planes and the double-rotar helicopters. All the neighbours gather, looking for news, exchanging ideas of where was burning, how the fire started and whether they would control it or not. Some of them I know, mostly to see. Without fail they all know which house I live in and that I am Irish. Neighbours who quarrel gossip together, bound by fear.

By 7pm the fire moves south of Guzelyali, towards Karanlik Limani beyond the Scout camp. The ridge is visible through the smoke, lined with matchstick trees. There are rumours that the restaurants on the road below Intepe, including our favourite gozlemeci, have burned.

By 9pm the area south of Guzelyali, Karanlik Limani, is burning. The Izmir road is reopened in a controlled manner and our electricity is restored. The planes and helicopters aren't flying in the dark and it is eerily quiet after the noise of the day. Having been bumped from the news headlines by the Constitutional Court decision we go to bed with no idea of whether the fire is under control or not.

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