Another day, another fire

Another day, another fire

18 July 2007

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Cyprus — A fierce blaze in the southwest of the island yesterday loomedmenacingly close to residential areas, less than 24 hours after firefightersfinished battling flames in the Larnaca district.

Yesterday’s was the latest in more than 30 fires that have broken out over the past couple of weeks, coming in the wake of the inferno in the Troodos forest near Saittas that destroyed ten square kilometers of forest and farmland at the end of June.

The latest fire erupted shortly after 3pm close to the village of Yiolou in the Paphos district. Fanned by strong winds, flames soon reached the neighboring village of Dhrymou.

By 8pm firefighters had managed to contain the front, thanks largely to the abating winds, but forces remained on standby in case of an overnight resurgence.

Nestled in a picturesque valley between Paphos and Polis, Yiolou is a popular residential area with British expatriates and other foreigners.

At least one house was damaged by the fire, reports said. “I saw 10-meter-high flames licking my home,” said David Michael of Scotland, the owner of the house.

Nine fire engines and two helicopters were used to fight the flames.

By the time the situation was under control, the area was a blackened wasteland,as olive orchards, oak trees and vegetation were consumed.

Only on Monday, another fire in the Larnaca district had swept through 10 squarekilometers of land, burning a house to the ground, as well as greenhouses andcultivated land.
Flames came to within 100 metres of Kalavasos village, while on a second frontin Mosfiloti and Pyrga rescue services were kept busy for much of the day.

“We are crying over the rubble,” Kalavasos community leader MichalisSoteriou said.
And he appealed for urgent reforestation, as the village has been left exposedto possible mudslides from the now barren hill slopes.

Speaking from Kalavasos, where a firefighting coordination centre had been setup, Minister of Agriculture Fotis Fotiou pledged assistance to the afflictedresidents.

”It appears that the issue of fires, with the weather conditions and hightemperatures in Cyprus, is a matter we must pay close attention to and we mustformulate a strategy based on the facts,” he said.

He added his ministry was already in the process of purchasing a small plane,similar to the Forestry Department plane, to strengthen Cyprus’ fire-fightingcapabilities.

But to the affected communities, this must have sounded like a case of toolittle too late.

Angry residents in Kalavasos say authorities neglected the fire there to divertresources elsewhere, after which they were left vulnerable to a resurgence ofthe fires.

However, Soteriou conceded yesterday that when the two fire-fighting helicoptersleft on Monday, the fire had already died down and the wind had directed ittowards Mosfiloti village, where it was burning out of control. The wind laterchanged and the subsequent whirlwinds brought it back to the edge of Kalavasos.

The government has come under strong criticism for the scarce firefighting meansat the country’s disposal, meaning current resources are strained every time amajor blaze erupts.

“Instead of wasting £250 million on the S-300 missiles, which now lie idle inCrete, we could have used that money to buy a hundred helicopters,” remarkedAKEL parliamentary spokesman Nicos Katsourides.

He was referring to the Clerides administration’s purchase of the Russian-madeanti-aircraft system.


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