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Our View: Harsher penalties needed for those who start scrub fires

THE FIRE season is upon us once again. In the last three days, the fire brigade had to deal with 51 fires, fortunately none of them very serious. In the Paphos village of Choletria a 34-year-old man was taken in for questioning by police in connection with a fire he had allegedly set to dry vegetation but spread to scrubland and a person’s property. The fire was brought under control, but it was a reminder that people in the countryside refuse to respect the law and ignore the countless warnings about the dangers of setting fire to dry vegetation.

Exactly a year ago, this thoughtless practice caused one of the island’s worst fires, which led to the death of two firemen and destroyed 18.5 square kilometres of forest in the Solea region. The Solea fire raged for five days before it was brought under control with the help of the fire service of neighbouring countries.

There is an extremely high risk of fires in the dry conditions and high temperatures of the summer months that makes the scorching of dry vegetation criminally irresponsible. All it takes is a bit of wind for a fire to get out of control.

While the authorities undertake campaigns every year to inform farmers about the dangers of this practice and warn them that it is against the law, few seem to take much notice, being under the illusion they know what they are doing. But even if the danger of a ‘controlled’ fire going out of control is just two or three per cent it is still a risk not worth taking because of the devastation it could lead to. This point seems very difficult to drive home, despite the advertising campaigns and announcements by the authorities.

As these campaigns do not work, the authorities need to get tougher. The courts need to impose strict punishments on the culprits – a few thousand euro that would be doubled for second offences – and before long very few would take the risk of scorching dry vegetation. They would take the risk if their action leads to burning a forest, but not if they were in danger of having to pay a huge fine. It may seem very harsh, considering these farmers are not very wealthy, but there must be a deterrent to prevent them from playing with fire.

And as they cannot be persuaded by rational arguments to give up the scorching of their fields they need to feel the full force of the law if they are ever to stop.

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