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Solea fire under control, minister says (Updated)

Photo by Christos Theodorides

The fire in the Solea region that resulted in the death of two firefighters and destroyed huge areas of pine forest was brought under control, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis, said on Thursday.

Air and ground firefighting forces remained in the area, he said, tackling outbreaks immediately when necessary.

A large airborne force from Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Britain, France, and Italy battled the flames on the Troodos mountain range that raged since Sunday.

On the ground, hundreds of firefighters, members of the civil defence, soldiers, and civilian volunteers, worked all day on Wednesday to put out the deadly fire under difficult circumstances due to the rugged and often inaccessible terrain.

President Nicos Anastasiades congratulated the crews and expressed his thanks and gratitude.

“All these people who, with self-sacrifice and in a coordinated manner, contributed to the efforts to protect human lives, the environment, and residential areas,” Anastasiades said in a written statement.

He also thanked Israel, Greece, France, the United Kingdom and Italy, as well as to the European Union, for their assistance, which was valuable at this difficult times the country experienced.

“I extend thanks also to the Russian Federation for its immediate interest and willingness to support the fire extinguishing operation.”

The fire claimed the lives of two firefighters, killed after their water truck plunged into a ravine.

Marios Aristotelous, 44, was buried on Wednesday afternoon while the funeral of Andreas Sophocleous, 49, was held Thursday evening.

Even while the blaze was raging out of control, there were claims of lack of coordination that contributed in making the situation worse.

Anastasiades said all the departments that took part in the operation will draw up reports that will show whether there were gaps.

“I haven’t noticed a lack of coordination,” Anastasiades said.

The firefighters’ priority, according to Anastasiades, was to safeguard people, their properties, and protect the communities.

Those efforts were hindered by the strong winds that fanned the flames out of control, coupled with the rugged and inaccessible terrain, he said, prompting the government to seek aerial assistance from other countries.

“If it is determined that reforms are required they will be done,” he said. “It depends on the reports of the departments that took part,” he added. “What we are obligated to do is appoint experts to give us their view as regards actions for prevention, actions for dealing with fires, and the means to tackle emergencies in general.”

As regards Turkey’s offer for help, that eventually never materialised, because it refused to land in the Republic’s airports, Anastasiades said the condition was for its aircraft to join the coordination system like the other countries taking part in the operation.

Turkey, which does not recognise the Republic, and props up a Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the north of the island, rejected the condition.

“We wanted to send two helicopters and an aeroplane … but the Greek Cypriot side, despite the situation it faces, wants to win advantages,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding that the government wanted the aircraft to land at airports in the Republic. “Turkey cannot accept such a condition.”

Anastasiades said it was impossible to have someone operating independently.

“Twenty aircraft were operating without the slightest danger of mid-air collision. It is not possible for one to come, simply to carry water and intervene in a well-organised and coordinated operation,” the president said.

Turkey had to respect the conditions of the other states, the EU, Israel, Greece, Italy, France, and the UK, he said.

Anastasiades stressed that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who made the initial offer for help, “was acting out of genuine interest for our common country,” but did not wish to comment on other powers’ expediencies – if there were any – and whether they mean something else.

During a meeting with Anastasiades as part of the reunification talks, Akinci expressed sadness over the lack of cooperation.

The same thing happened 20 years ago, he said, when a huge fire burned on Pendadaktylos, in the north.

The reason was because of the Cyprus problem, Akinci said, which raised political sensitivities and prevented cooperation between the two communities, even during such big disasters. Such stances were not right and political obstacles must be overcome, he added.

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