A fire broke out on Saturday afternoon in an open area filled with old tyres at a processing centre for Vasilikos, between the villages of Kalavasos and Mari, mobilising the fire service and emergency response unit Emak.
Civil defence advised on Saturday evening that people to avoid the area and called on residents in affected nearby villages to stay indoors and their close doors and windows. Thick black smoke from the fire could be seen along the highway and from some beaches in the Larnaca area.
The director of the environment department, Costas Hadjipanayiotou, who was at the scene, told CNA it appeared the fire was caused by a malfunction in a tyre shredder that ignited the spark that led to the blaze.
“Fortunately there have not been any human casualties,” he said, but did admit there would be consequences for the environment.
Hadjipanayiotou said the tyres were there in accordance with the required permits. The effort now was to put out the fire, he said.
Thousands of tonnes of soil were being piled on to the burning tyres to try and put the flames out.
Hadjipanayiotou said it did not appear the blaze would be extinguished soon.
“Fortunately east of where the tyres are located there are no flammable hazardous materials,” he added.
As for the environmental impact, he said there were sensors in place that would keep tabs on the measurements for the labour inspection department.
According to police, the fire broke out shortly after 2pm. Firefighters were battling all afternoon and evening to extinguish the blaze, and it was going to be a long haul, they said.
In a post on twitter, the spokesperson for the fire service, Andreas Kettis said three Emak vehicles initially went to the scene and two more from Larnaca and Limassol.
Government services were also immediately informed.
“Huge efforts are being made to extinguish the fire,” Kettis said. “There is no risk of it spreading but the time needed to extinguish it will be lengthy due to the nature and properties of the combustible material… tyres”.
The Green Party’s Efi Xanthou who posted a video on Twitter early on said: “Tyres and other waste materials are burning. The smoke cloud is travelling to Larnaca and Famagusta due to the strong winds. Environmental disaster and degradation is a given …”
Τεράστιων διαστασεων πυρκαγιά στο λατομείο Βασιλικού. Καίγονται λάστιχα και αλλα απόβλητα. Το σύννεφο καπνού ταξιδεύει προς Λάρνακα και Αμμόχωστο λόγω των δυνατών ανέμων. Η περιβαλλοντική καταστροφή και υποβάθμιση είναι δεδομένη… pic.twitter.com/zYO3zeJTy0
— Efi Xanthou-Έφη Ξάνθου 🌻🇨🇾 (@efixanthou) June 11, 2022
Spaces with old tyres stacked up have been an environmental hazard for years.
Only last year, the audit office revealed that a company being paid to process massive quantities of used car tyres for Vasilikos was failing to do so.
In a tweet on Saturday, the audit office said it had pointed out the risk of fire from the accumulation of large quantities of tyres in that very area “at a time when some people collect fees to process the tyres”. There had been another fire involving tyres in the same area in the past, the tweet said.
In its report last year, the audit office said that used car tyres located near the Vassiliko cement works plant, close to Mari, had not been processed, despite a company being paid to do so. These tyres had also been included in the quantities Cyprus put in its report to the European Commission as having been processed, the audit office said.
Vassiliko cement works plant is the main management and processing unit for used tyres and it uses these tyres as a source of energy for its operational needs.
In another case, the audit report said that though the state had paid for the removal and management of used tyres that had been stored at the Dali industrial area and in Ayios Sozomenos, it had yet to be reimbursed by the company that owned those tyres.
Other issues raised are the lack of information on how many checks the environment department carried out from 2012 to-date at the units collecting, storing, and repurposing used tyres, to ensure their compliance with their licensing terms.