Cyprus has a specific plan for the procurement of private aerial firefighting means to upgrade and ensure self-reliance, Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou said on Wednesday.

Panayiotou, who was expected to visit the Paphos villages affected by the fire, referred to the matter as a national security issue.

Speaking to reporters after the cabinet meeting in Nicosia, the minister emphasised the government’s focus on public safety, ensuring timely evacuations to prevent loss of life. She expressed her intention to address on-site issues, highlighting ongoing communication between provincial authorities and the affected communities.

The minister stressed Cyprus’ strategic shift towards procuring private aerial means, underlining its necessity in addressing new climatic conditions. She acknowledged past reliance on rentals and third-party support, stating that the current government’s plan addresses a long-standing gap in national capacity.

She said that at the moment the Republic of Cyprus has at its disposal, apart from the plane of the Forestry Department, which is in operational readiness, the four planes it has leased. They arrived on Tuesday along with the two Jordanian planes, as well as the two helicopters from Egypt.

Between 2006 and 2009, Cyprus chose not to invest in the purchase of privately owned aircraft and rented or leased planes.

“This practice cannot meet the needs that we have today, nor the new climatic conditions,” she said. “It is for this reason that this government has gone ahead with a specific plan almost two decades after the Republic of Cyprus had done nothing in this area.”

Regarding firefighting efforts in Paphos, she mentioned aerial drops from rented planes, including two out of four already on the island, along with the Forestry Department’s aircraft. Additionally, both Canadair planes provided through RescEU have been deployed.

Panayiotou expressed gratitude to international partners for their assistance, notably Greece and Jordan, for their immediate response and ongoing support. She also thanked Egypt for deploying helicopters to aid firefighting efforts. The minister extended thanks to local authorities, including the forestry department, the civil defence and volunteer firefighters.

“We have taken all the steps we could have taken,” the minister said.

She highlighted the government’s comprehensive approach and deterrence against irresponsible actions such as illegal waste dumping, signalling stricter penalties and enforcement measures in the pipeline.

“The fire was possibly caused by an illegal dump. Each and every resident should also take responsibility. We cannot act recklessly. These criminal actions of going ahead in deliberately setting fires must finally stop,” she said.

Regarding legislation, she noted the Forest Department’s recent adjustments and ongoing efforts by other agencies. The agriculture ministry is in contact with the Commissioner of Legislation and the Legal Service to finalise additional penalties, including fines up to €50,000, imprisonment, or both.

The minister is due to travel to Paphos with the deputy director of the department of agriculture, the director of veterinary services, and officials to assess the initial damages and speak with the affected individuals.