Public urged to be vigilant as temperatures soar above 40oC
PUBLIC vigilance and care was urged as temperatures topped 40 degrees this week and sympathy was expressed for suffering caused by a fire in Greece that killed at least 83 people in similar scorching conditions.
The warnings came as flames also devoured more than 500 dönüms of TRNC forest and farmland around the country, with suspicions that some of the blazes were started by carelessly discarded cigarette ends or other negligence.
A Forestry Department statement on Wednesday said forest fires were more likely at this time of year as strong winds
combined with high temperatures. The department said there were 13 observation points monitoring the country’s forests 24 hours a day, with 125 people on standby around the clock ready to tackle any fires.
Referring to blazes this week in Çatalköy, Alayköy, Bağlıköy, Taşkent and Gönyeli, the statement said they had been quickly controlled in joint operations by the department, Civil Defence and fire brigade with assistance from municipalities. Four dönüms of land were also burned at two locations in the Bafra Tourism Area, with both being blamed on discarded cigarette ends.
The Forestry Commission called on people to take great care and observe a ban on lighting fires in most public picnic areas until October 31. It said barbecue fires were only permitted in designated areas: Alevkayası, Boğaz, Salamis, Kantara, Kalkanlı, Balalan, Yeşilköy, Karpaz, Taşkent and the Karşıyaka-Kozanköy picnic areas.
Power cables, rubbish tips and land close to military bases were cited as areas of particular risk.
People were urged to phone 177 if they see a forest fire or the 199 emergency fire service.
The statement said that in 18 years, a total of 9,743 hectares of woodland had been destroyed by fire, with 15 per cent of blazes blamed on power lines.
President Mustafa Akıncı lent his support on Thursday, saying: “The Forestry Department warning must be taken seriously.”
He recalled the mountainside fire of 1995, which he said “left deep wounds”, urging: “Everyone must adhere to not lighting fires, especially at [non-designated] picnic spots and for officials to make consistent checks. A small act of negligence could lead to a catastrophe, so we need to act responsibly.”
He added: “We are all deeply sorry for the pain and suffering of the people of Greece that has come about from a major fire catastrophe that has killed more than 80 and injured hundreds more.
“I personally, and indeed all Turkish Cypriot people, share the pain of the Greek people.”
Amid outrage over “loss of humanity” among those who posted “hate messages” online in the wake of the tragedy, Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman said Turkish Cypriot people had been “deeply saddened by the pain inflicted on the Greek people and the loss of lives”.
GREECE said on Thursday it suspected arson was behind a devastating forest fire which killed at least 83 people and turned the small town of Mati east of Athens into a wasteland of death and destruction.
In one of the worst Greek disasters in living memory, Monday night’s blaze trapped dozens of people in their cars trying to flee a barrelling wall of flames.
“We have serious indications and significant signs suggesting the criminal actions of arson,” Civil Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told a news conference. He said police had testimonies to that effect, but did not elaborate.
Media reported on Wednesday that police were investigating how the fire started from three different locations at the same time, on a day when a second major fire was raging west of the Greek capital.
With the toll from Greece’s deadliest wildfire in decades expected to rise further, about 300 firemen and volunteers were still combing the area on Thursday for dozens still missing.
In a nation numbed by the scale of devastation, desperate relatives appeared on television to plead for information on those missing, while questions mounted on how people got trapped, and why no evacuation order was issued.
“This shouldn’t have happened, people perished for no reason,” a tearful woman shouted at Defence Minister Panos Kammenos as he visited the town and nearby fire-ravaged areas. “You left us at God’s mercy!”
One woman was still looking for her sister. “Nothing happened to her car, the house was not burned, so where is she?” Maria Sarieva said. “I believe she is alive. Where are they? They went somewhere. Where could they be?”
Haphazard and unlicensed buildings (a known feature of many areas across Greece) were also blamed. Many routes to the beach were walled off.
“How is it possible to have so many lives lost and not investigate who is responsible for such town planning chaos?” said Infrastructure Minister Christos Spirtzis.
Adding to the misery, an area of Athens was hit by flash floods on Thursday, damaging scores of cars.
Outside the coroner’s service in Athens, the mood was grim as relatives of victims arrived to submit information and blood samples which could assist identifications.
“This is a difficult process, more difficult than other mass disasters we have dealt with,” said coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias, adding that the bodies of most of the victims were completely charred.
The left-led government announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off 10,000-euro payment and a job in the public sector for victims’ spouses and near relatives. But for many, that was not enough to ease the pain.
The fire broke out on Monday at 4.57pm and spread rapidly through Mati, which lies less than 30 kilometres east of Athens and was popular with local tourists.
Firefighters described a rapid change in the direction of the wind, which also picked up speed, and some suggested the thick covering of pine trees and a mood of panic was a deadly combination that would have been hard to combat.
Firefighters, soldiers and local residents carry a hose as a wildfire burns near Athens on Monday