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Cyprus

Solea fires underestimated from the outset, MPs hear

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DISCUSSION in parliament on a deadly fire in the Solea area of the Troodos mountain confirmed that the situation had been underestimated and the operational preparedness of firefighting forces was not what it should have been, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said on Thursday.

The matter was discussed jointly by three parliamentary committees – environment, agriculture, and interior.

The fire, which started on June 19 and burned for four days before it was put under control, resulted in the death of two firefighters and the destruction of some 18 square kilometres of pine forest.

Recriminations raged in its aftermath, as the opposition charged that the government had left fire-fighting units without personnel in a bid to save money.

On Thursday, House Agriculture Committee chairman, AKEL deputy Andreas Kafkalias, said discussion had confirmed two points: that the situation had not been assessed correctly and preparedness had been inadequate.

Kafkalias said the danger had been underestimate, especially in the first hours, and that was why authorities either failed to take the necessary decisions or took them late.

Among others, the AKEL MP was referring to failure to call for airborne reinforcements immediately, and seek support from the National Guard, the fire service rescue unit, and the Game Fund.

Kafkalias said a number of government decisions had affected the preparedness of fire-fighting units, which were found to be inadequate both in prevention and reaction time.

The MP said units were understaffed, fire breaks were inexistent, roads were badly maintained, and fire surveillance failed.

“We await the establishment and operation of the independent investigating committee, the reports of the forestry department and the fire service, to determine political and other possible responsibility,” he said.

DISY MP Andreas Kyprianou quoted the head of the forestry department who told MPs that neither personnel nor the equipment played any role in the progress of the fire.

As soon as the forestry department and the fire service asked for extra airborne support it was done immediately, he said, on Monday.

Kyprianou said everyone realised that the big problem was spotting the fire in time and nipping it in the bud.

The fire, which police said may have been started by a 12-year-old boy playing with a lighter broke out in Evrychou and quickly spread aided by strong winds and scorching temperatures.

The two firefighters were killed when the water tanker they were in tumbled down a ravine.

A large force from Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Britain, France, and Italy battled the flames from the air, as hundreds of firefighters, members of the civil defence, soldiers, and civilian volunteers, worked to put out the deadly fire under difficult circumstances due to the rugged and often inaccessible terrain.

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