TWO FIREMEN died battling the forest fire that had been raging in the Solea region since Sunday. Marios Aristotelous and Andreas Sofocleous ignored their personal safety in the line of duty and paid with their lives, causing untold grief to their respective families. This tragedy and the brave, non-stop battle with the flames for more than 48 hours by firemen, forestry workers and volunteers also showed us the true meaning of public service, of the type we very rarely witness in Cyprus where it is drastically restricted by trade unions.
The sad thing was that families are grieving the loss of two good men – a third is in critical condition – because of the thoughtlessness, stupidity and obstinacy of a few people that think they know better than to obey the law prohibiting the burning of dry vegetation to clear their fields. And there is a very good reason for the law as everyone knows. On Saturday a massive fire destroyed a big area of forest, outside Argaka village, after a couple, allegedly decided to burn rubbish in their backyard and the fire was soon out of control. The couple were remanded in custody for four days.
The fire in the Solea area, which destroyed more than 15 square kilometres of forest and led to two deaths, was supposedly started by a 12-year-old boy playing with a cigarette lighter. At least this was the version relayed to police, but President Anastasiades did not buy it, saying on Monday: “Irreparable disasters that through carelessness, negligence or refusal to accept responsibility for the risks people take is causing tragic conditions for rural communities.” Now, this carelessness and negligence is also causing tragic loss of life.
No tolerance should be shown to those idiots who break the law and burn dry vegetation in the belief that nobody will find out. Nor should the authorities take action only if this dangerous practice leads to a big fire. The fact is that we are constantly being warned, through campaigns and daily announcements by the authorities, about the very big risks of fire in the dry summer months and there is no excuse for people persisting with setting their fields alight. Perhaps agriculture ministry inspectors should start touring the countryside and issuing fines to the owners of fields that have been cleared by the use of fire – the evidence exists.
The law has not stopped the practice, so it is time for tough punitive measures. We do not want more unnecessary deaths because a few farmers insist on disregarding the law.