Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Firefighter dies, air cover to resume 5am on Tuesday, planes due from France and Italy (Update 20: adds statement from Anastasiades)

CNA

One of three firefighters from the forestry department whose vehicle overturned on Monday has died.

Politis said the forestry department firefighter had been riding on the back of the truck and sustained head injures when it overturned.

The other two on board were also injured and transferred to hospital and are said to be in serious condition.

Shortly after the news broke, President Nicos Anastasaides issued a written statement expressing his condolences.

“It is with shock I learned the tragic news of the death of forestry department firefighter Andreas Sophocleous who died from injuries sustained while on duty during the heroic effort he and his colleagues were making to defeat the inferno raging in the Solea district,” Anastasiades said.

“The government and I personally express our deepest condolences to the relatives whom the state will stand by at this time. In these moments of grief, our thoughts are all directed both to the family of Andreas and to all those making superhuman efforts to fight this fire and who are willing to risk their lives.”

Two other firefighters were injured overnight on Sunday, one critically.

As air units withdrew on Monday night from the Solea area as darkness fell, ground personnel were working through the night for a second day to try and bring a series of fires under control that they had been battling since midday on Sunday.

Authorities had hoped to gain the upper hand by nightfall when air cover ended but fires were still raging on three fronts by 8pm, though other areas were under control by then. Fourteen aircraft from Cyprus, Israel, the British bases and Greece were helped when the latter also provided two Super Puma ‘water bomb’ helicopters on Monday afternoon.

According to CNA, forestry department chief Takis Tsintides said that by 6.30pm the main efforts were focused on three fronts where the fire was still raging; near Spilia, Kannavou and Ayia Irini even though high temperatures and winds had dropped.

He said that at 5am on Tuesday, the aircraft would be back in action, which could prove to be the final boost they would need. Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides tweeted later that France was sending three aircraft and Italy one, which were due to arrive on Tuesday.

A Cyprus police helicopter (CNA)
A Cyprus police helicopter (CNA)

It is estimated that so far some 15 square kilometres of land and forest have been charred. It is the biggest fire Cyprus has seen since Saittas in June 2007 when 10 square kilometres of land was destroyed and millions worth of damage was caused to properties in the region. It took two days to bring that fire under control.

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos who was in the area all day told CyBC earlier that firefighters were hampered most of the day by strong winds and temperatures around 40C. He said there was hope that with the arrival of Super Pumas, the fire would be brought under control “within the light of day” but this did not materialise.

Hasikos told CNA that he had also sought help under the European Mechanism for Civil Protection.

He said he had talked to European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides.
“Our request is basically to send firefighting aircraft,” he said. “The Commissioner has already initiated the process and we expect an answer tonight.” The UK, France and Italy all responded to the call but nothing more could happen on that front until at least Tuesday morning.

The fires started on Sunday in Evrychou when a 12-year-old boy was playing with a cigarette lighter.

An operation centre was set up immediately at Galata village and Anastasiades, Hasikos, Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides, House President Demetris Syllouris, Police Chief Zacharias Chrysostomou and the heads of the fire and forestry departments and civil defence, were there on Monday morning to monitor the firefighting efforts, along with the Israeli ambassador. Three Israeli planes arrived on Sunday to help with the Argaka fire in Paphos and remained on the island.

Christodoulides, said in a post on Twitter early in the day that Anastasiades had a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday night and that Israel would send additional help to Cyprus.

The two Greek Canadiar planes re-filling their water tanks in Polis on Monday (Photo tweeted by Finance Minister Harris Georgiades)
The two Greek Canadiar planes re-filling their water tanks in Polis on Monday (Photo tweeted by Finance Minister Harris Georgiades)

Two Canadair planes arrived from Greece to Larnaca airport early on Monday to join the Israeli planes, helicopters from the British bases, 66 ground vehicles and more than 400 personnel. The Israeli IDF tweeted around lunchtime that it had dispatched one more firefighting plane and a transport aircraft.

Residents of Ayios Theodoros, Kourdali, Spilia, Ayia Irini and Kannavia were being looked after in Platania, though some, worried about their homes have remained near their villages to keep an eye on their properties. According to a CyBC reporter in the area said many had left on Saturday night but returned on Sunday and some were in tears. Others had refused to leave at all.

Hasikos said any resident who sustained losses would be fully compensated though so far the fires have not damaged any residential properties.

Anastasiades and other officials decided at the meeting in Galata to ask Greece to send the two Super Pumas.

Greek fire service Super Puma helicopter
Greek fire service Super Puma helicopter

Overnight, one forestry official aged 56, was critically injured when his fire truck went into a ditch in the village of Galata and overturned. The man who sustained a head wound and injuries to his right arm is in the ICU Nicosia general hospital.

In another incident a 55-year-old member of the civil defence was struck by a fire vehicle. He was treated at the Nicosia General Hospital, where he was found to have a broken left arm. He was admitted for treatment.

Health Minister Giorgos Pamboridis visited both men on Monday morning. He said it appeared the critically injured man was out of danger.

Reports on Monday afternoon that all munitions were being moved from the army storage camp in Kyperounda as a precaution in case the fires spread to the mountain village was denied by Fokaides who said no properties, either army camps or homes were in immediate danger.

fire 2 A third incident saw a forestry department vehicle engulfed in flames and completely destroyed. No one was injured.

There were 28 calls to fires between Sunday morning and Monday morning the fire service said and it called on the public again not to light fires or do anything that might result in fire such as carelessly discarding cigarette butts.

Anyone who spots a fire should call 112 or 1407.


SUNDAY JUNE 19

Firefighters were gearing up for another night battling flames on Sunday as a fire that prompted the evacuation of four villages in the Evrychou area continued to rage out of control when air cover was being withdrawn as darkness fell.

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos said that three firefighting planes from Greece would be in Cyprus by 4.30am on Monday. Israel sent three planes on Sunday morning to help put out the massive fire that ranged all day and night in Argaka on Saturday. The Israeli planes were due to leave Sunday afternoon but stayed on to help fight the fire in Evrychou.

Police said in the evening that the road from Kakopetria to Karvounas had been closed to traffic due to zero visibility. At around 9.30pm it was re-opened but drivers were urged to be careful.

The fire, which broke out around midday was caused by a 12-year-old boy who was playing with a cigarette lighter in his grandfather’s garden, setting fire to dray grass, CyBC reported on its main evening bulletin.

A blaze in Argaka was allegedly caused by a couple burning rubbish who were remanded for four days by the Paphos court on Sunday.

Fire service spokesman Leonidas Leonidou issued a plea to people through the public broadcaster. “In the name of God, how many times must people be told not to light fires,” he said.

Police spokeswoman Nicoletta Tyrimou told the state broadcaster that the 12-year-old could not be arrested as he is a minor. She said as soon as the fire he lit got out of control he called his grandfather and father for help but though they and some neighbours tried to put out the blaze, it has spread too rapidly.

Leonidou said the situation was very difficult in the area where the fire was raging. Four villages, were evacuated as a precaution: Kourdali, Spilia, Ayia Irini and Kannavia. Hasikos said no one was in danger but they were concerned. He said as far as the evacuation went, it did not involve a lot of people as they villages were tiny. Also most of the adults were involved in the firefighting. He said residents were being taken care of by civil defence teams.

The community leader of Spilia, Antonis Karis, told CyBC in his case they were talking about around 85 people. Most would either stay overnight with relatives or in hotels. Karis said he was the one who spotted that the fire had spread to his area after seeing smoke an immediately alerted the police. Karis said no residential properties had been damaged as yet but the danger existed. He complained that the fire service had been slow to respond on the ground “I am sorry to say” but acknowledged that air units were already in the area by the time the blaze spread to Spilia.

Leonidou denied the claim. “The fire service responded immediately it received the message,” he said. Conditions as dark fell were very difficult, he said, due to winds and the fact that it was a big area to cover, plus it was mostly forest. He hoped that once ground units worked through the night and when air cover resume at first light, it would be possible to bring the fire under control.

Hasikos said all services had been mobilised, including the fire department, civil defence, forestry, the game fund, volunteer firefighters and locals. He repeated that there was no panic and no danger. “But is there concern? Yes,” he added.

More than 30 fires broken out islandwide between Saturday and Sunday. An earlier blaze near Souni in Limassol was brought under control in around four hours on Sunday morning.

President Nicos Anastasiades in a written statement on Sunday evening said he was following with great concern the developments and the “superhuman efforts of the competent services”.

He thanked the Greek and Israeli governments for their assistance.

“The government is taking all measures to protect the inhabitants of the areas where fires are raging and to prevent the fires destroying the environment,” he said.

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All photos: Christos Theodorides

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