The forestry department said on Sunday all safety measures were in place to secure campsites on the island from forest fires and that under regulations, site operators must always have a plan in place in case of emergencies.
Police defended the response after complaints that no one had answered the 112 emergency calls.
The comments came after a fire prompted the evacuation of dozens of people from the popular campsite and a number of homes on Dasoudi beach in Polis, Paphos in the early hours of Sunday.
The fire started at the edge of the riverbed around 12.30am and was brought under control at 3.30am and fully put out by 4am. Initial investigations showed the fire was started deliberately and police are investigating.
Campers and affected residents were evacuated by civil defence officers to the nearby beach and a marine patrol boat was ready to take them to safety if the need arose, according to the fire service. Around 1.5 hectares of wild vegetation and eucalyptus trees was destroyed.
Five fire trucks from Paphos and the wider district were involved in the operation, ten fire trucks from the forestry department, one from the game fund and one from the district administration. Over 40 firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.
Police were left to defend their position on Sunday after reports said a number of campers had called the emergency number 112 and did not get a response.
“We would like to clarify that from the very first moment of the incident, both the police and the fire brigade and other services responded immediately both by land and sea,” a police statement said. “Early mobilisation played a catalytic role in evacuating the camp in time, without endangering human lives or property, but also in dealing with and limiting the fire”.
It added that after the fire was put out, and since police and firefighters were still out in full force, there might have been a number of 112 calls, which were left unanswered.
“This was due to the large number of calls received at the same time by the call centre,” the police statement said.
“In such circumstances, it was not possible for all callers to be served as service staff and telephone lines are not unlimited. This must in no way be interpreted as non-response. The mobilisation of the public for such serious incidents is always welcomed and seems to have been massive and spontaneous in this particular case. In any case, the police stress that this incident is being evaluated with a view to continuously improving the call centre and the emergency lines,” it concluded.
Senior forestry official Andreas Christou told CNA the particular campsite in Polis was close to two fire stations, one operated by the fire service and one by the forestry department. “In this way, the response can be immediate,” he said.
Asked who is responsible and what security measures were being taken at the camp in Polis, Christou said that the site was leased to the municipality so security measures were its responsibility. However for the area where the fire actually started, that would come under the forestry department as it was part of the Dasoudi forestland.
He also said there were several patrols a day in the area and that campers, including tourists, are advised on how not to start a forest fire. He said there were specific areas within the camp where fires were allowed.
“These measures are taken first to protect the public visiting the campsites and secondly to protect the wider area from fires,” he said.
Asked whether additional measures should be taken for camping sites, Christou said in any campsite area the responsible authority should have an action plan in place and inform campers about what they need to do in an emergency.
“State services are aware of the location of campsites and in most cases, there is either a fire station for forestry station with vehicles close by,” Christou added.
“There is a patrol and alert programme throughout the summer season all around Cyprus, and where there are sensitive areas adjacent to forestland,” he added.
“When there are days of increased risk where temperatures are too high, with low air humidity or wind, or a mass exodus is expected in forest areas, such as weekends and days of the 15th of August, then, the patrol programme is reinforced not only on the ground with fire engines, but also with the aircraft from the forestry department”.
Regarding the extent to which the forestry department should be strengthened either in terms of manpower or equipment, Christou said there was is already a decision on aerial firefighting that would involve obtaining two more aircraft. He also said the vehicle fleet was being renewed, and that as of May 1 each year until the end of October extra firefighters are hired at all forestry stations.
“Better organisation and better manning of stations is something that leads to further improvement of the ability to respond,” he said.