The number of rural fires between May and July this year has dropped significantly, registering a drop of 48.1% compared to the same period in 2013, according to Acting Director of the Fire Service, Markos Tragolas.
In an interview with CNA, he said patrols in rural areas will increase and be strengthened with Volunteer Rural Observers, a new initiative that began this month in cooperation with NGO Reaction Youth for the Prevention.
Tragolas said fires is a social issue as lives, property and the environment are threatened, adding that everybody's cooperation and contribution is needed, especially in prevention.
He said the Fire Service attaches great significance to prevention because August is a critical month when it comes to fires and figures have indicated that most fires break out in the east and west of the southern coastal town of Limassol and of Paphos, on the western coast.
Asked about arson, he said there have been instances where suspects appeared before the court and cases still pending.
H urged the public to contact the Fire Service on 112 or 199 or through the Forestry Department on 1407 and provide information about fire incidents.
In his interview, Tragolas said that in May there were 228 fires compared to 541 last year, in June 281 compared to 477 in 2013 and in July 217 compared to 382 in 2013.
There are 19 Fire Service Stations in rural areas and 20 observer posts, which are manned by 172 seasonal fire-fighters.
All departments are ready and standby to handle any outbreak of fires. He praised the cooperation with the Police, the Forestry Department, municipal authorities, the district administration, civil defence and the Game Department as well as voluntary organisations for their prompt intervention which has proven to be very useful and productive.
Asked about the Department`s ability to fight forest fires, Tragolas said the Republic`s aerial firefighting abilities are satisfactory and so are the number of fire-fighting trucks. However, the extent of their abilities depends on the fires` dimensions. He explained that fires often break out simultaneously. The number of fire-fighters has increased this year from 120 to 172.
Tragolas said August is usually the most critical month due to the increasing drought, low levels of humidity and strong winds, which help fires spread faster. This, combined with the fact that August is a holiday month when more people are outdoors, dramatically increases the chances of fire outbreaks. He urged the public to be extra cautious and avoid the use of tools that might cause sparks and eventually fires. Campers, he added, should also be careful while preparing their meals in camping sites, noting that lighting charcoal in areas not designated for barbecuing is prohibited.
Cigarette butts almost certainly cause fires, Tragolas said, as well as the burning of rubbish. He said most fires break out in the eastern and western areas of Limassol and Paphos.
Tragolas said causing a fire outdoors due to negligence or arson is a criminal offence and carries up to a three-year prison sentence or a fine of up to 8,543 euro or both. The Forest Law provides for a five year jail sentence or a fine of up to 25 thousand euros or both.
He said the Fire Service wants people to understand that the fire problem is a social issue and lives, property and the environment are in stake,
“We need everyone`s contribution and cooperation to prevent fires. We are in the middle of the summer season and the number of fires is down by 48,1%. We can do more to lower this number. If we remain at the same levels, then by November we will have 2000 fires lower than last year”, he concluded.
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