All relevant state services are ready to tackle wildfires throughout the upcoming summer season, Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou said on Thursday after witnessing a firefighting exercise, called ‘Hephaestus 2024’ at the Troodos national forest park.

“Adequate preparation enhanced professional training of personnel, and increased operational readiness are strategic investments against environmental threats, such as wildfires,” she said.

“Today’s exercise underlines our commitment to enhancing the fire management system’s response capability, ensuring a comprehensive and coordinated effort in wildfire response and suppression.”

Panayiotou explained that the exercise, coordinated by the forestry department, involved the participation of all services and agencies engaged in fire protection.

The exercise’s scenario involved a wildfire that escalated into a crisis situation in the communities of Galata and Kakopetria, affecting vacation homes and other properties.

The envisioned fire was expected to spread further, potentially burning a large area of the Troodos national forest park.

Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou
Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou

The firefighting efforts were bolstered by forces from the forestry department, the Fire Service, the police, the Nicosia district administration, the Game Fund, the Civil Defence, the National Guard, the Joint Search and Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) the ambulance service and the met office.

Additionally, the ‘Icarus 2’ plan for aerial operations was activated, involving all aerial resources of the Republic and the British Bases.

The exercise scenario included evacuation procedures, the transport of injured people, the mapping of the perimeter and the attempt to locate active fires using an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The primary focus of the exercise was to assess the effectiveness of the national firefighting strategy ‘Hephaestus’ for large forest fire suppression, upgrade the operational readiness and effectiveness of personnel, and optimise the cooperation of all involved agencies in forest firefighting.

“We are already at high risk for fires,” Panayiotou said. “As a government, we have supported this effort with determination and political will, doing everything possible to ensure we are ready this summer and to provide lasting solutions to longstanding issues such as understaffing and the absence of proprietary aerial firefighting means.”

She also highlighted that the Republic leverages collaborations both within the European Union and with neighbouring countries, particularly in aerial firefighting.

“A tangible example is the current presence in Cyprus of two firefighting helicopters and their 18-member crew from Jordan, following their immediate and positive response to the call for enhanced aerial firefighting capabilities in our country,” the minister said.

She then added that managing forest fires continuously requires new plans and measures.

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“To this end, we focus on a coordinated and comprehensive approach, promoting the creation of an effective roadmap for forest fire protection.”

She outlined measures to reduce fires, noting that increasing the resilience of natural landscapes to fires relies on intelligent land use planning and natural resource management practices.

Additionally, further support for preventing the abandonment of rural land cultivation and reducing biomass through controlled grazing are some methods being considered for implementation in Cyprus.

Panayiotou expressed her gratitude to the Fire Service, the forestry department and the volunteers involved in tackling and managing wildfires.

The government is always by your side, supporting every effort to protect our forests and natural environment from fire,” she said.

“The issues you face, such as understaffing and the need for equipment enhancement, have not only been identified but are on the path to resolution, as evidenced by the recent decision to reopen the forestry college and strengthen our ground forces.”

Finally, she also thanked guests from Jordan, the United Nations, and the British Bases, who attended and observed the exercise.