A red alert for fires was issued on Saturday by the forest department as a protracted heatwave continued to scorch the island with a yellow weather warning for high temperatures also in force.

The critical weather and dry conditions could lead to rapid or dramatic increases of forest fires, the department said, urging the public to be especially careful of their activities as the slightest spark could start a huge fire.

Citing the recent catastrophic fires that started in Arakapas early in July and led to the death of four people, the department also highlighted that agricultural burning, a method farmers use to clear their fields, or starting fires without a relevant licence are prohibited.

The use of tools or agriculture machinery that produce sparks or flame in the countryside including the cutting of metals and welding should also be avoided, the announcement added.

The forestry department warned that many fires were caused by throwing cigarette butts on the ground.

People who have electric generators or water pumps located in the countryside should also take the necessary precautions to prevent the possibility of fire.

The fine for those who start a fire without a licence amounts to up to 10 years in prison or €50,000 or both sentences combined according to the forest law of 2012, and up to five years in jail or €20,000 according to the Prevention of Fires in the Rural Areas Act 1988.

Anyone who spots smoke or fire in or near the forest should contact 1407 (Forest Department) or 112 (Fire Department).