Two suspects detained as forest fire comes under control in southern Turkey

(Releads with detentions, updates with minister's statements)

Turkish police detained two suspected arsonists on the second day of forest fires in Turkey's southern Hatay province, Yeniçağ newspaper reported on Saturday.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli announced on Saturday that the forest fires that broke out in three districts of Hatay province were fully under control.

"Four suspects were detained and released. Two other supsects have been detained. As of this moment, the fire is entirely under control," Pakdemirli said.

A woodland area between the districts of Iskenderun, Belen and Arsuz caught on fire on Friday morning when a power transformer unit malfunctioned. Several neighbourhoods have been evacuated, as the fires spread rapidly towards residential areas due to strong winds.

Pakdemirli announced that seven apartment buildings, 11 houses, 14 businesses, eight factories, three warehouses and 35 bee hives had been affected. He said his ministry launched has an investigation into the possibility of sabotage.

Due to the continuing strong winds, firefighting aircrafts cannot be utilised so efforts continue on land, the minister said.

State-run Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday that the fire actually started across the border, in Syria’s northeastern Latakia province.

There are suspicions that an attack by Syrian regime forces sparked the fire in Latakia’s rural woodland areas, Anadolu said.

Nine plots in Hatay, including in the Arsuz and Belen districts, were designated as mining sites in August, and the Arsuz municipality at the time said the decision had been made “without any information on whether they were currently pastures, woodlands, water sources or protected natural or archaeological sites.”

“Mining in Belen would kill the forests. Mining in Arsuz would destroy farmlands,” Nermin Yıldırım Kara, chairwoman of the Iskenderun Environmental Protection Association, had told reporters.

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