Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou kicked off Forest Protection Week at a ceremony at the Environmental information centre at the Athalassa forest park.

The aim of the week is to raise awareness regarding the efforts made to protect forests in Cyprus, with the hope of increasing public participation, particularly among young people, in these efforts,

In her speech at the ceremony, Panayiotou pointed out the “importance of forests for environmental, social, and cultural development”.

She added that forest fires are natural disasters, “and they constitute a matter which must be treated as an issue of natural security”.

She went on to speak about the policies the government is putting on to place with the aim of managing forest fires, and said the government is “determined” to support the fire brigade and all the other services involved in fighting forest fires.

This, she said, will be done by bolstering human resources, firefighting equipment, and infrastructure.

With this in mind, she said she wished to “issue a warm and profound ‘thank you’ to the unsung heroes on the front line: those who put the fires out, those who work in the civil defence, often putting their own lives at risk to ensure the safety of all of us and our forests.”

In addition, she made a “special mention” of the government’s collaborations with neighbouring states to boost Cyprus’ aerial forest firefighting capabilities.

This has been evidenced as recently as last week, with the arrival of two helicopters and 18 crew members from Jordan, while the European Commission announced on Tuesday it would lease two firefighting aircraft to Cyprus this summer.

To this end, she expressed her gratefulness to the Jordanian government, as well as to the British Royal Air Force, which has been aiding in Cyprus’ effort to fight forest fires from the United Kingdom’s bases in Cyprus.

She also appealed to members of the public to “avoid reckless actions and activities which would be likely to cause a fire”.

“With increased attention, seriousness, and responsibility, but also constant vigilance from all of us, we can fully protect ourselves from these destructive fires,” she said.

Forestry department representative Savvas Iezekiel also spoke at the ceremony, pointing out that his department’s firefighting capabilities have been at “full operational readiness” since April 1.

He added, “all the usual preventative measures, which are taken every year, have been implemented again this year, and we can declare ourselves ready once again to throw ourselves into the fight against fires.”