The large fire in the Solea region of the Troodos Mountains, that had been raging since Sunday, appears to be under control, the Greek Cypriot Justice Minister said on Wednesday. This is the fourth day of the fire that has destroyed countless acres of pine forest and claimed the lives of two fire fighters.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, who visited the coordination centre at the village of Galata, said small fires in various areas were being tackled immediately by ground forces, while water-dropping aircraft intervened where necessary.
Eight helicopters and one forestry department aeroplane dropped water in various areas mainly to prevent the fire spreading, the minister said. Three larger aeroplanes patrolled the area as a precaution. The aircraft ceased operations after nightfall.
Nicolaou said ground forces would continue to work through the night in an attempt to bring the fire completely under control.
The minister said the aircraft will continue to fly sorties apart from four aeroplanes sent by Israel, which had to return to tackle a fire there.
A large airborne force from Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Britain, France, and Italy battled the flames on the Troodos mountain range. Turkey, which does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, offered help but later withdrew its offer when Cyprus said it would have to work in line with the international operation that was underway, meaning its aircraft would have to land in the South first.
Meanwhile, on the ground, hundreds of firefighters, members of the civil defence, soldiers, and civilian volunteers, battled against the fire on Wednesday often hampered by the rugged and frequently inaccessible terrain.
No one should be complacent, the Minister for Agriculture Nicos Kouyialis said. The minister is facing criticism about some aspects of the firefighting operations with allegations emerging that the forestry department had been understaffed.
“The fire is considered to be under control,” Kouyials told CyBC on Wednesday night. “But there will be no complacency,” he added, as no one knew what could happen.
Kouyialis said part of the big battle had been won by ground forces who worked throughout the night to put out smaller outbreaks of fire in the area.
The minister said there will be patrols around the clock and new fire breaks would be carved to prevent the fire from reigniting.
Mountainous terrain hindering access, strong winds fanning the flames, and temperatures close to 40 degrees C, made the firefighters’ task virtually impossible.
The latest estimates suggest that more than 15 square kilometres of pine forest have been destroyed.
An initial report stated that the fire was caused by a young boy burning stubble on his grandfather’s country property in the Evrychou region, on Sunday, however, an alleged witness claimed that it was, in fact, the boy’s grandfather who accidentally started the blaze, by burning dry grass.