Forest fires rage in Cyprus for fourth day (published by Planet Ark, 19 June 2000)
LAYIA – Devastating forest fires raged in southern Cyprus for a fourth day on Friday, inflicting one of the worst ecological disasters on the Mediterranean island in decades.
Waterbomb aircraft and helicopters from Israel, Greece and British military bases on the island helped to to fight the flames that have been fanned by strong winds.
“With the resources we now have at our disposal we should be in a position to control the situation today,” Agriculture Minister Costas Themistocleous said.
Authorities said it was impossible to give a precise assessment of the damage, or the expanse of the area affected because many fires started at once.
The afflicted area south of the capital Nicosia and between the districts of Limassol and Larnaca is predominantly agricultural, dotted with hamlets but far from the island’s seaside holiday resorts.
At Layia, a mountain village some 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Nicosia, hundreds of Greek, British and Cypriot firefighters had a sleepless night trying to douse flames racing through forests.
Blazing mountains glowed during the night as Israeli helicopters dumped water on the flames.
Tankers loaded with water – a precious commodity during one of Cyprus’s most severe droughts in years – lined mountain roads covered in ash.
The inaccessibility of some regions hampered firefighters. Volunteers sometimes watched helplessly as fires raged, because vehicles could not reach them or their equipment was inadequate. Many Layia residents moved out on Thursday as fire skirted around the village.
“The village is not at risk now. There is nothing left to burn,” a resident said.
It was not known what caused the fires, though authorities say there are suspicions they may have been set because they started at once.
But accidental fires are common on the east Mediterranean island, in particular because some old habits die hard. As volunteers battled the flames on Friday morning a car whizzed by. The driver flicked out a lit cigarette.
Story by Michele Kambas
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE