By Bejay Browne
PAPHOS district was hit by a barrage of fires last weekend, which authorities believe were deliberately set.
According to the Chief Fire Officer for the district of Paphos, Spyros Papamichael, more than 35 separate blazes were reported to authorities on Sunday alone, mostly in the west and north of Paphos.
“Agricultural and scrubland close to tens of villages in Paphos was ablaze and we believe most of the incidents saw the fires being purposefully set,” he said.
Locals in Drinia village, said they witnessed literally dozens of fires, which saw residents running for shovels and watering cans to try to contain fires raging close to homes and cars, prior to the arrival of voluntary firemen.
Papamichael said: “The areas burnt included agricultural and grass land, some trees and wild vegetation, and rubbish was also burnt.”
He said the illegal Cypriot practice of farmers setting fire to land to ‘clean’ the fields was the cause of most of these blazes, adding that it must stop. The practice carries a hefty penalty – up to three years in prison and/or a fine of €8,543 – but only if culprits are successfully identified.
Papamichael called on the public to be vigilant if they see anyone behaving suspiciously or if they are seen setting the fires as it is difficult to prosecute the arsonists without evidence.
The fires services resources were stretched on Sunday, said Papamichael, as firefighters dashed from blaze to blaze attempting to extinguish great swathes of burning countryside.
“Some of these fires were in difficult areas for us to reach as there are no access roads, so it’s almost impossible to get fire engines to them,” he said.
Papamichael said the bulk of the blazes were set by famers and villagers, while a number of others were caused by “crazy young people”. A small number was put down to accidents.
Many of the hot spot areas included a number of villages in and around the Stroumbi and Inia villages.
Kostas Papageorgiou, a forestry protection officer at the agriculture ministry said: “Every year during this period, farmers often light fires to maintain pastureland and they can get out of control.”
He added that protection of the countryside could be achieved by implementing better supervision.
“Within the areas which the Department of Forests is responsible for, there is no problem of increased number of fires. This is because this zone is continuously supervised by patrols and fire lookout stations,” he said.
According to Papamichael, there are 12 fire engines based at Paphos central station, another five are at the station in Polis Chrysochous and stations in agricultural areas which service the villages of the Paphos district has two at each.
“The problem is, in some instances, we really don’t have enough personnel to cope,” he said.
“People must stop lighting fires and they must behave correctly and take appropriate safety measures. Don’t throw away cigarettes, set fire to rubbish, or have a barbeque.”
The Cyprus Green party’s district committee of Paphos, concerned over the number of fires they witnessed last Sunday issued a statement saying that Paphos was being ‘left to the mercy of arsonists, while the state looked on.’
They say they counted more than 50 fires last weekend.