‘Hellish’ blazes in the Akamas forest caused by simultaneous arson attacks on Wednesday were extinguished almost nine hours after they broke out, the head of the forestry department Charalambos Alexandrou said, calling the arsonists ‘senseless’.
The fires broke out at approximately 9:30am, and were extinguished just after 5pm, the forestry department said. Officials could give no immediate details as to the scale of the damage.
Alexandrou described the fires as a ‘nightmare’ and said the arsonists were a group of people who were trying to stop the conservation plan of the Akamas forest.
“Whenever a meeting is planned to discuss Akamas, the day before a fire breaks out in the area,” he said.
He added there was one such meeting planned to discuss the conservation plan on Thursday.
He also said the national forest park, where the fires were lit, has nothing to do with some development claims in the area.
Trucks and planes were at the scene to put out the blazes. Earlier, the fire services said they had been called to seven fires in the Paphos district, Lara at 7.30am, Akamas forest at 9.44am, Drinia 9.57am, Polemi 12.27pm, Melamiou-Ayios Demetrianos 12.37pm, Droushia 12.42pm and Letymbou at 12.50pm.
Authorities were forced to launch the ‘Icarus’ plan, which is used when such a large-scale operation is needed.
To put out the blaze, six aircraft from various services such as the national guard, police and forestry department, were deployed.
One of the helicopter pilots battling the blaze took a video of the fires in the evening.
“Forces are still in place and it seems as if the fires are being brought under control, vegetation is burning but the fire is surrounded,” chief conservation officer Andreas Christou said on Wednesday afternoon.
He added that the affected area is behind Neo Chorio village.
“The fire started behind the mount, looking to the west, it’s a difficult area. It’s quite steep, although there are some access roads, there is a lot of dry vegetation as well,” Christou said.
Environmentalists were also up in arms at the latest ‘crime against nature’ and stressed the need for serious protection of the area.
“If they burn everything, how easy is it to build there then. Everything becomes easy. There is no future for the Akamas like this, behind this there is business, everyone thinks they can do what they want,” Andreas Evlavis of the Paphos Greens said.
He added that the onus was on the politicians and the government to take this latest development seriously and protect the Akamas from further damage.
The agriculture ministry said it would not be deterred by actions aimed at sabotaging the protection of the environmentally sensitive forest area.
“We regret that such a destructive tool as fire is being used as a lever to pressure the state to abandon the effort to save, preserve and sustainably manage the Akamas National Forest, for the benefit of all of Cyprus,” the statement said.
The ministry said it wanted to send the clear message that its policy on the Akamas would remain unaffected by such actions and that it would move decisively and within the timetable for the implementation of the Akamas sustainable development plan.
A national forest park would be delivered to the public in 2022, the ministry added, which would work to protect the natural environment in the area, “providing benefits to the communities and serving the thousands of visitors arriving in the area”.
With strong winds fanning the flames, authorities poured more personnel and equipment early in the afternoon in a bid to put the flames under control before they did more damage.
Speaking on Omega television, Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said in a statement: “It is regrettable every time we have a breakthrough with the proper management of the Akamas, to have these reactions. It can’t be accidental.”
A Neo Chorio resident said the flames were close to an area where there are two goat farms and admonished the suspected arsonists.
“This is a stupid, terrible and reckless thing to do and in such a lovely area. I hope that the culprit is found and punished.”