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High alert for Forestry Department as risk of fires spikes

August 13, 2019 at 2:11pm
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The Forestry Department remains on red alert in what is the most dangerous month for forest fires in Cyprus and though this year’s results so far are ‘excellent’, it is only too aware that it takes only one incident to spark a catastrophic fire.

Forestry Department director Charalambos Alexandrou told Phileleftheros that this year’s efforts have so far paid off – fires that have broken out have been extinguished before approaching the forests.

August is currently the most dangerous month for forest fires, he said.

“In August and particularly around the August 15 holiday we are always on high alert. We have the highest mobilisation we can. Because a lot of people carry out excursions to the forests making the best of their days off, we have a large numbers of people in the forests, our airplanes carry out patrols from up high and at the same time we have land patrols,” he said.

Alexandrou said that what concerned him most as regards the fires was climate change and rural depopulation.

Although this year’s results so far are ‘excellent’, there is no room for complacency. Either way, a single incident, one fire could prove destructive thus the need for planning, he said.

“That is our objective and that is what we are constantly working towards. We will never reach the point where we will say that we have done everything possible and there is nothing left to do in terms of precautionary measures,” Alexandrou said.

The fact that Cyprus has so far this summer been spared a big forest fire is because of the precautions taken but also due to the fact that ordinary people are far more careful when they are in the forest.’

There is an average of 130 fires in the government controlled areas of the Republic every year. For the year up until July 31 there have been 120 – ten fewer than the average but 20 fewer than the previous year when there were 140.

“What is interesting is the expanse covered by the forest fires. The average is 1600 hectares, this year we have had 250. This is a big difference. If you look at exclusively forest fires, that is those that burn forests, these are down 50% from 80 which is the average this year we had 40,” Alexandrou said.

This, he says shows that authorities have managed to stop fires from developing into forest fires by extinguishing them promptly. Few fires start in a forest.”

How does the Forestry Department avert fires?

“When a fire breaks out we do not know how many fire fighters we will need to place it under control which is why we mobilise a large number of people. We don’t wait to get to the fire and decide depending on its size how many fire fighters to send. From the beginning there is a large mobilisation of units and hopefully they are useless in the end.

“For example during last Saturday’s fire near Panagia forest we gave instructions for four firefighting aircraft to begin operation but by the time they got there the fire had been contained by the people on the ground and so so they returned to base without dropping any water.

“We also sent additional land units and they weren’t needed either because the fire for was successfully dealt with by the people already there.”

Meanwhile in a written statement, the Forestry Department has appealed to all excursionists over the August 15 holiday to be particularly careful and to avoid any actions or activities that may spark a fire.

The public is reminded that lighting a fire at a distance of up to 2 km from the edge of the state forest and in the countryside.

Such an offence is punishable under the amended law on forests with up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of up to €50,000,00 and under the law on the prevention of fires in the countryside with up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to €20,000.

It issued a special appeal to owners of holiday homes who may decide to have a BBQ to do so in a specially designated safe area.

The public is also asked not to use equipment which emit sparks and not to discard cigarette butts.

The lighting of fires in picnic areas is permitted only in specially designated areas.

Anyone who spots fire or smoke should telephone 1407  or 112.

(File photo)

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