By Nick Theodoulou and George Psyllides
Sinister acts will not succeed in preventing the protection of the Akamas, President Nicos Anastasiades vowed on Thursday after 70 hectares were burned the previous day.
“The malicious acts oblige us to take stronger measures to enforce the conservation and protection of the Akamas area,” he said on Twitter.
Seven separate fires broke out in and around Akamas on Wednesday morning, the first occurring in Lara at 7.30am. Head of the forestry department Charalambos Alexandrou said on Wednesday that the fires were caused by a series of arson attacks.
It is widely believed that people who wish to develop the area deliberately set fires to open it up to potential development.
There are plans to declare the area a national forest park by 2022. This measure could potentially grant authorities greater powers to enforce stricter laws and would almost certainly remove incentives for future attacks. Short of this measure however, it is unclear what specifically Anastasiades plans to propose.
Authorities believe the fires were set directly at the locations and not through the use of some kind of delay method.
Alexandrou said five fires had started in five different spots in the space of some time and at a distance between them that appeared to aim at making things difficult for firefighters.
He said authorities were trying to track down the perpetrator or perpetrators based on certain leads but so far without any result.
Alexandrou said there are patrols in the area but the people who started them did so on the days when there are hunters out to make detection difficult.
As a precaution, the entire force which fought the fire on Wednesday remained in the area the entire night, something that is only done in exceptional cases.
Alexandrou said the fire did not die out on a fire break or a road, but it was chased down a slope by the firefighters.
Because of this, there was a high risk of it rekindling forcing crews to remain in the location to prevent this.
The forestry chief sought to clear the air over his use of the term morons to describe the arsonists, which locals misunderstood and took offence.
He told reporters that he was referring to one or two people who set the fires.
Peyia mayor Marinos Lambrou said on Thursday he strongly supports the movement to declare the area a national park and “the sooner they do it the better.” He added that other countries have overnight wardens and regular patrols to protect such areas. “It’s an incredibly sad day for the environment of Cyprus”.
“How is this allowed to keep happening in a supposedly protected area, who benefits?” asked Linda Leblanc, member of the Peyia community council.
Disy chief Averof Neophytou visited the area on Thursday said people must understand that protecting the environment was good for everyone.
“A callous action by certain callous individuals is destroying our country and we must not allow it,” he said after being briefed about the situation.
Akel also called for something to be done. “The issue of the proper management and protection of Akamas has been going on for decades. Unfortunately, certain interests do not allow for a solution to be reached,” it said.
The Icarus plan, that was launched on Wednesday to put out the fires, involved a total of 165 people from the forestry department, 30 fire trucks and eight aircraft belonging to the forestry department, the government, the British Bases and the national guard.
Akel criticised the drawn-out process of finding a solution. They said inaction results in plans to reduce the extent of the protected areas. They emphasised that there is an ongoing effort to grant major development rights within the area.
When various community leaders were asked what police can do to prevent future attacks, they lamented the fact that gathering evidence can be difficult.
In a separate incident, a 58-year-old man arrested in connection with a further fire that broke out in the Paphos district on Wednesday afternoon was remanded in police custody on Thursday for four days.
The fire, which started in a rural area between the villages of Kritou Marottou and Fyti at 2.10pm, burned about 1,000 square metres of wild vegetation and dry grass before it was extinguished.