Cyprus gets tougher on fire-starters

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Cyprus will get tougher on people who start fires on purpose or unwittingly with harsher fines and jail time for arsonists, and tough penalties for people who engage in high-risk activities that could cause a fire.

After a meeting with Justice Minister Sophie Dracou, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, and Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis, Attorney General George Savvides said a committee was set up to look into ways of clamping down on all fire-starters, not just arsonists.

Savvides said that action needed to be taken to replace antiquated laws regarding starting fires, in order to protect the island’s forests from a repeat of deadly blazes in July and in recent years.

The AG said that “the meeting was deemed necessary following the deadly fires in July in Limassol and Larnaca,”

The devastating fire that started in the Limassol village of Arakapas claimed the lives of four Egyptian workers and burned more than 55 sq. km of forest land, homes and properties across the Limassol and Larnaca districts.

Savvides said that following the Arakapas fire, while probing the possible offences committed by a suspect who had unwittingly started the fire, legal services found themselves in maze of laws in a variety of sections all foreseeing different penalties for the same offence.

 

Updating legal framework

“Updating the legal framework is essential for the legal services to go after these cases,” he said.

The Attorney General said that the committee will include officers from the Agriculture, Justice and Interior Ministries, with the help of a senior lawyer from the state legal services.

Savvides explained that the committee aims to toughen penalties for arsonists, while also considering community service as a possible penalty for others.

The committee will also look into preventing fires being started by people who engage in high-risk activities, such as the scorching of dry weed, an antiquated method still used by some farmers.

“That is to say, even if no fire is caused directly by such activities, the act alone will be a criminal offense of severe liability and there should be the possibility of extrajudicial regulation, with very strict penalties,” said the AG.

He added that carrying out such activities will require a special permit from the relevant authorities.

Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis noted that the goal is for a set of bills to be tabled in parliament before Christmas, in order to be passed into law before the beginning of the summer period when the fire hazard is high.