Relentless heatwave saw a tough start to the summer

This summer has been especially tough for fires, with 70 blazes breaking out in July alone – double the long-term average for the month – officials said on Tuesday.

Director of the Forestry Department Charalambos Alexandrou said due to the relentless heatwave this July, the number of fires within the department’s area of responsibility totalled 70. By comparison, in any given year around 30 fires generally break out in July.

The department’s area of responsibility covers state forests plus a radius of two kilometres from their boundaries.

For fires occurring anywhere outside the department’s area of responsibility, the fire department takes the lead. However, both work together in any given blaze.

Alexandrou also spoke about the current situation with the fires that raged in the foothills of the Limassol mountains.

He said everyone’s main worry was subduing the front and preventing the flames expanding to the east, toward the valley of Germasogeia.

“We wanted to avoid such an eventuality at all costs because had it happened it would have spelled disaster. We would not have been able to deal with the fire,” he said.

“Whereas I’m loathe to say that a fire cannot be tackled, the reality is that sometimes you may not be able to tackle a fire no matter how much you want to. Fires can be dealt with where they can be dealt with – it doesn’t depend on your desire.”

The official said the situation in Limassol has improved, but there are still some potential trouble spots along the perimeter which “cause some concern.”

He added: “That is why we can’t say that the fire is fully under control… we need to go through today [Tuesday], and especially the midday and afternoon hours when the wind picks up.”

For the ongoing emergency, half of the department’s force is operating in the area.

While aircraft certainly help with water drops, in general they are not the key to containing a fire front, he added.

“It is ground forces that contain fronts. There are certain conditions, there is the topography. You also have some large trees that may burn for days on end, and maybe their roots keep burning…”

He recalled that something similar had happened in 2016 during the great forest blaze in Solea, where tree roots were discovered to be smoldering four weeks after the initial outbreak. The roots had been burning for days in a locale that was otherwise unburned, and at some point these flames turned into a new fire source.

Asked about the burned terrain this weekend, the official said two-and-a-half square kilometers were incinerated in the first fire, and six in the second fire.