Every year we face the same problem when big fires break out in the countryside. We do not have anywhere near enough firefighting aircraft and have to rely on the neighbouring countries to send some. In the past we have relied on aircraft being sent here from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Greece, while a helicopter or two are invariably provided by the British Bases. We relied on outside help again for the big Paphos fire earlier this week.

Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou was criticised for this failing and one columnist called for her resignation, but this was grossly unfair considering she has only been in the job for a few months and the problem has existed for at least 20 years. No government has been prepared to invest in firefighting aircraft even though there have been devastating blazes over the years – blazes that are becoming more frequent as temperatures rise.

We suspect the reasoning behind the unwillingness of governments to invest in firefighting aircraft was that they would only be used, maybe once or twice a year at most. Then again, they were more than happy to pay much bigger amounts on assault helicopters and tanks for the national guard that were never used and, hopefully, never will be. No government ever considered that the expense for firefighting aircrafts was more than justified because fires pose a much more immediate threat to the country.

The Forestry Department currently has two aircraft – one bought in 2005 which is unavailable at present because it is under repair and another in 2009. After four reports prepared between 2013 and 2018, the previous government decided to buy three aircraft and in September 2022 tenders were invited; the estimated cost was put at €13.5m. Three months later, the Audit Office issued a report saying the tenders’ requirements for the aircraft – put together by the Forestry Department itself – were blatantly designed for a specific company. Its fears were proved correct as only one company made a bid.

The procedure was cancelled and a new one announced last October. The tenders were opened last month and by the time a decision is taken and the inevitable appeals to the tenders’ review board by losing bidders are submitted and heard it could be 2026. Aware of the possible delays, the government, in January had invited offers for leasing firefighting aircraft. According to Panayiotou, four leased planes arrived on Tuesday together with two Jordanian planes and two helicopters from Egypt.

Will these aircraft be stationed here for the summer or were they brought in specifically for the Paphos fire? It is not clear and if we are lucky, we will not find out. But if there is another big fire we will not be surprised if the government appeals to neighbouring countries for help.