Human health was not directly threatened by a fire that broke out in Vasiliko during the weekend, authorities said on Monday after surrounding communities staged a protest to express their displeasure over the incident.
The fire broke out on Saturday afternoon in an open area filled with old tyres between the villages of Kalavasos and Mari, and was brought under control before midnight.
Strong winds carried the cloud of fumes generated by the burning tyres upwards, environment commissioner Klelia Vasiliou told the Cyprus News Agency.
The competent services are carrying out sample checks and will continue to do so in order to gauge the impact on the ground, she added.
“It was fortunate that the mobilisation of all services was immediate: the interior ministry, civil defence, the meteorology department, the environment department, were all on site,” she said.
It took eight fire engines and a team of 25 firefighters working around the clock to bring the fire under control.
An update on Monday morning said that two fire engines would remain at the scene, with a new team sent to monitor the fire, which was still not completely out due to the highly flammable nature of the tyres.
The director of the environment department, Costas Hadjipanayiotou, who was at the scene on Saturday afternoon said it appeared the fire was caused by a malfunction in a tyre shredder that ignited the spark that led to the blaze.
Hadjipanayiotou said the tyres were there in accordance with the required permits.
Vassiliou said that the government’s developing mechanism for preventing environmental risks is constantly improving through the challenges faced in recent years. “There are some shortcomings, which are of an administrative nature, and are in the process of being corrected”.
Meanwhile, local residents gathered at the old Vasiliko quarry around 9 on Monday morning to protest the incident, using it to illustrate their enduring opposition to the relocation of even more heavy industrial plants in the area.
Dozens of people living in Mari, Kalavasos, Zygi, Maroni, Tochni, Choirokitia, Asgata, Pentakomo and Psematismenos attended the protest.
Many held signs reading “No more pollution in our communities”, “Respect our children’s health” and “No more factories in our area”.
Speaking to the media, residents asked for measures to be taken in order to avoid similar fires in the future, saying that the most recent one will undoubtedly have unprecedented health repercussions for them and their children after they inhaled its toxic fumes.
Chairman of the coordinating committee of the local communities, and Mayor of Kalavasos, Lefteris Foka said that the communities staged their impromptu gathering “in order to express our concern and complain as the state is unable to protect us”.
Foka said that neither the environment department nor the labour inspection department responded “to this very difficult event we have been experiencing for the past three days, which is endangering our lives and that of our children and grandchildren.
“Not a single phone call was made to inform us whether we are in danger, whether we need to tell people to stay home or even if we need to evacuate our communities,” he added, saying that there was only one late-night call from civil defence instructing them to stay alert.
This shows indifference on part of the state, he said, made evident by the decision to move the entire island’s heavy industry in their area. “This is why we have gathered here today, to express our opposition against any new factories in our area”.
But the commissioner rushed to explain that she had been in touch with the competent services and was aware that the data assessments did not raise any concerns of a direct impact on human health.“Therefore I speculate that mobilizing a warning or evacuation would cause unnecessary panic”.
Foka said that nothing has been done to stop fires erupting in the area, and mentioned similar incidents in the past that elicited, as he said, no action from the state.
He repeated that the communities would not accept the planned relocation of the Dhali asphalt plants, a subject of much protest, to their area.
Finally he stressed that the most recent fire was the last straw, threatening further measures if the communities’ demands are not heard.
Without referring to the specific fire, Vassiliou stressed that black smoke should be avoided “at all costs”.
Asked if the smoke stays in the atmosphere for days, she said that it depends on the weather conditions, wind, and whether it rains or not.
Some of the particles that may have landed on the ground will be examined through analyses by the relevant services in the coming days to give concrete results mon whether the earth has been affected and where, she finally said.
Only last year, the audit office revealed that a company being paid to process massive quantities of used car tyres for Vasiliko 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.