Nearly two years after the catastrophic fires of July 2021, which left four dead and forced the evacuation of ten villages, a 69-year-old man was sentenced to eight years in jail by the Limassol criminal court on Monday.

He was found guilty of starting the blaze in the countryside by burning scrub on May 24.

The Arakapas fire, deemed the worst in the country’s history, burned a total of 55 square kilometres and cost over €15 million in damages.

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.

Their families were compensated by the labour ministry with €95,000 each, plus an additional €35,000 for each of the victims’ children.

Furthermore, the children of the deceased were granted scholarships to universities in Cyprus.

At least 80 homes and properties were destroyed by the 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.

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.

According to the judge who pronounced the sentence, the fire was ignited maliciously and intentionally.

“Such crimes are on the rise and have reached alarming proportions in recent years,” the judge said.

“Based on the facts presented, the court concluded that the testimonial evidence on which the prosecution relied led to the unambiguous conclusion that the defendant is guilty of the crime for which he was accused.”

The judge also mentioned the aggravating behaviour of the defendant had to be taken into account, as he started the fire and then went for coffee without showing any interest in what was happening.

The latter statement was always denied by the 69-year-old man who claimed that he went to water the citrus and fruit trees at his field at 10am, before heading to the village’s coffeeshop at 1pm, where, shortly after, he told a witness he could smell smoke and called 112 from his phone at 1.53pm.

The police investigator appointed to shed light on the events that day, however, said the 69-year-old’s account of the facts clashed with a witness statement who said he was the one that noted to the suspect in the coffeeshop that there was a smell of smoke and therefore there must be a fire.

On the other hand, mitigating factors considered were the defendant’s clean criminal record, his personal circumstances and his advanced age.

The 69-year-old was arrested on the same day over reports he was seen burning stubble at the time.

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

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

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.