Cyprus Mail

Pensioner found guilty of starting ‘worst fire in history of island’ (updated)

feature george the sky turned orange in ora near arakapas (andrea anastasiou)

A 67-year-old man was on Wednesday found guilty of causing the catastrophic fires of July 2021 which left four dead and forced the evacuation of ten villages.

Limassol criminal court found the man guilty on charges of starting a fire in the countryside and burning scrub.

He will remain in custody until May 31, when he will be sentenced.

The man had denied setting any fire, claiming he went to his field in Arakapas community to water his trees.

The 2021 Limassol wildfires broke out near Arakapas on July 3 amidst a heat wave.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire spread to a forest area and ten nearby communities. Cyprus had to request help from the EU and Israel to put it out as the terrain made it difficult to tackle the blaze.

With the help of ten aircraft and some 600 firefighters, the fire was put under control the following afternoon, destroying a total area of 55 square kilometres.

It was later described as the worst fire in the history of the island.

Four seasonal workers from Egypt who lived in the area, Morzok Shady Morzok, Hisa Melad Farouk, Ezat Salama Josef and Maged Nabil Yonan, aged 35, 29, 28 and 24, died in the fire.

At least 80 homes and properties were destroyed during the forest fire, most of which were in the Larnaca district. The government later paid over €6 million in compensation to those affected by the forest fire.

The 67-year-old man was arrested on the same day over reports he was seen burning stubble at the time.

Then Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said at the time the response to the blaze was immediate and authorities used all available means to bring it under control.

Πυροσβεστική Υπηρεσία – Άσκηση “Πυρσός 2023”
Justice Minister Anna Procopiou at the exercise on Wednesday

Following the Arakapas fire, stakeholders introduced a series of measures to boost fire prevention.

Speaking about the fire prevention and response strategies, Justice Minister Anna Koukkide Procopiou said on Wednesday that the government is constantly evaluating and enhancing their effectiveness.

“Climate change is a phenomenon that is now visible to all of us, with noticeable impacts, particularly in terms of increasing the frequency and intensity of fires and the extent of burnt areas,” the minister said.

The cost of the fires that have occurred in recent years in our country has been enormous, even costing human lives, while the losses have been incalculable for the environment, agricultural activities, the economy and the lives of all of us, she added.

Among the new measures is a €2.490 million holistic surveillance system using modern technologies, to help prevent and respond to forest and urban fires as well as other disasters.

The first phase of the project has been completed with the fire service now having access to a real-time image transmission network from the site of the fire through new forest fire surveillance and detection systems.

Drones and other surveillance systems have also become available to the fire service.

Furthermore, the hiring of additional 260 firefighters is in process, as well as volunteer firefighters.

“The implementation of this project… will ensure a sufficient degree of prevention and suppression of fires,” Procopiou said during the launch of the Pyrsos joint exercise. With the participation of the British Bases and other states such as Jordan and Slovenia, the exercise aims to check the degree of preparedness of all relevant services in fire conditions.

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