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EAC blamed for potentially huge Paphos forest fire (Updated)

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The goal is to plant up to 10,000 trees in fire-affected areas

The fire in the Elitzies area of the Paphos forest was contained on Tuesday with the forestry department and the electricity authority (EAC) disagreeing over whether the blaze was caused by unsuitable cable installations.

Head of the forestry department Charalambos Alexandrou was unequivocal in blaming the EAC for uninsulated electric wires running between Kambos and Stavros tis Psokas forestry stations.

“It is unimaginable that naked [uninsulated] cables should be running over trees in a forest,” Alexandrou said in statements to the CyBC. He had earlier stated that he would document with evidence his assertion that an electrical short circuit had caused the blaze.

On Tuesday morning firefighters were able to reach what is believed to be the fire’s ‘point zero’ where they identified three fallen electric poles and burned overhead cables.

“This is a longstanding problem in the whole of the Tylliria region and other solutions must be found,” the forestry rep said, adding that the EAC should be looking into making the cables subterranean and/or running them from Lysos village to the Stavros tis Psokas station.

A total length of 17-20 km of overland cables exist in the area which can easily set a fire, even if a bird happens to just touch them, the forestry head told CyBC.

He added that there were two documented cases in Saittas and in Kato Platres, where a rodent and a falling tree had started fires through short-circuiting the lines.

But spokeswoman for the EAC, Christina Papadopoulou said that it was “impossible” to make underground cables in the forest.

“The cost is prohibitive, it isn’t possible to make such installations on dirt roads, paving and proper access are required,” she said.

“The EAC responsibly and methodically maintains its installations in forested areas,” Papadopoulou said adding that incidents involving rodents, birds and trees could not be predicted or prevented.

Speaking to Cyprus Mail, she detailed that following a meeting with the forestry department the EAC had undertaken and completed maintenance works in the specific area by end of May.

Twenty workers had taken two days to clear the cables and the works were to be checked by the forestry department, she said.

“The specific cables are 11km long and have been there for about 50 years. As the forest grew, they have become difficult to access but we do everything possible within our means,” the EAC rep said.

The EAC had been awaiting instructions from the department as to the locations where the cables should be insulated, Papadopoulou added.

Papadopoulou told the newspaper that EAC crews working at the scene since 6.30am are examining the cables section-by-section and so far have found no indication that a short circuit caused the fire.

“We must wait for the fire service to complete its investigation before drawing any conclusions,” she said.

Asked to clarify an earlier statement that the EAC had received a request at 8.30pm-two hours into the blaze- to cut off electricity supply to the Stavros tis Psokas forestry station, the EAC spokeswoman explained that this does seem to imply that electricity was still running through the wires at that time, calling into question the possibility that a short circuit was the event which sparked the fire.

Forces mobilised rapidly at 6.30pm on Monday as the forestry head sounded the alarm that if the fire was not brought under control a catastrophe was imminent.

The fire tore through a steep, difficult-to-access gorge, north of Kykkos Monastery and Cedar Valley, burning an estimated 20 hectares of dense pine forest before it was contained shortly before 11pm.

Three firefighting aircraft began spraying water and foam over the area before 6am on Tuesday to extinguish and prevent flare-ups.

Speaking on CyBC’s morning programme forestry press spokesman George Constantinou said the firefighters had given a “superhuman battle” overnight.

“If it hadn’t been for them and the lucky absence of wind, we would have been talking about a huge tragedy today,” Constantinou said.

“This was the most difficult fire we have had to cope with, certainly this year,” he said.

Over one hundred firefighters with tens of vehicles rushed to the scene from all stations in the area, from Gialia to Stavros tis Psokas, as well as private vehicles which were directed to create firebreaks.

The absence of wind overnight gave the window of opportunity for the firefighters to secure the perimeter and manage the blaze.

Bishop Nikiforos of Kykkos said the timely intervention of the firefighters had “prevented the worst from happening” and expressed relief and gratitude to the forces for averting the monastery’s evacuation.

The area adjoins 60,000 hectares of forestlands and forces remain vigilant at the scene.

 

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