Government denies sluggish response to wildfire

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With Cyprus coming to terms with the devastating fire at Arakapas, the worst in the island’s recent history, the government denies it responded slowly to the emergency.

The deadly wildfire claimed the lives of four Egyptians and burned more than 55 sq. km of forest land, homes, and properties.

In a written statement, the government’s spokesperson Marios Pelekanos argued that authorities quickly responded to the fire, dispatching land and air firefighting units.

He said that the fire had spread fast due to unusually strong winds and vegetation density, forcing the government to set into motion two national response plans.

“A total of 11 planes were used in operation, while help from the EU mechanism RescEU was requested along with additional help from Israel.

“The fire department and the state apparatus were quick to respond and under the circumstances were effective.

“Despite the magnitude of the damage, it is certain that any failure to react would have resulted in infinitely more tragic results.”

He said the authorities’ effectiveness is proven because they could contain a fire within a perimeter of 44 km in just 18 hours.

The fire in Solea, Troodos, in 2016, burned three times more forest area.

Pelekanos said in 2016, it took firefighters four days to bring the fire under control, which had burned 18 square km of forest land and claimed the lives of two firefighters.

“In recent years, there has been a significant improvement in the infrastructure and methods of dealing with fires.”

He added that any faults detected will be corrected.

Pelekanos said that the government had implemented 28 out of 39 suggestions put forward by the committee set up after the fire in Solea.

He refuted claims the government did not buy the two firefighting planes that the committee suggested.

He argued that in 2016, firefighters had the help of six planes, while 11 planes were dispatched to help put out the fire in Arakapas.

“Compared to 2016, firefighters had the help of drones used for surveillance and mapping of the fire overnight, helping authorities to lay out the plan for the next day,” said Pelekanos.

The government has included the purchase of another plane in the 2022 budget, while another one will be bought with money from the EU Recovery Plan.

“Compared to 2016, the Forestry Department’s budget has increased by 42%.”

“But we do not wish to create the impression there are no issues to be addressed.”

The deadly fire that broke out in the south-eastern foothill of Troodos burnt through 10 villages across Limassol and Larnaca was brought under control Monday after a two-day battle.

Cyprus’ worst-ever fire broke out in the village of Arakapas in Limassol at around 1.50 pm on Saturday, destroying trees, crops, homes, and property.

Fanned by strong winds reaching up to 7 Beaufort, the Arakapas wildfire spread out of control, with Cyprus calling for assistance from Greece and Israel.