Pub­lic urged to be vig­i­lant as tem­per­a­tures soar above 40oC

Cyprus Today - - FRONT PAGE - By KEREM HASAN

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

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