A year before the recent catastrophic fire that burned nearly 55 square kilometers in the forest areas of Limassol and Larnaca and killed four people, forestry department employees wrote to President Nicos Anastasiades warning him of the risks, but did not have received no response, according to reports. reports Thursday.
Dated July 21, 2020, the letter was sent by staff members from the Pasydy Civil Servants Union. Reproduced in Phileleftheros, it mainly highlighted the lack of personnel within the department and the serious consequences of forest fires.
It came as the department issued another appeal to the public to be especially careful during the weekend of August 15, one of the busiest public holidays in Cyprus.
“For five years, we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about the serious understaffing within the department and we have done so because we have observed how urgent the situation can become when fires break out,” said the letter.
“The key aspects of fire prevention and early suppression cannot be implemented at this time, simply because critical positions are left vacant. If a big fire breaks out again, like the one in Solea in June 2016, we will not be able to fight it.
The letter also stated that there were 69 vacant posts in the forestry department, on top of another 27 posts that had been cut previously, for a total of 96 key posts missing.
In addition, he added, after a new forestry law passed in 2012, the area of responsibility of the department for fire protection purposes increased from 35 to 54 percent in Cyprus, but without any increase in staff. .
“The existing forest service personnel are simply not sufficient to perform, to the extent required, the most basic of their duties, the effective management and protection of our forest wealth, despite all the diligent efforts and zeal of our employees are showing, even at the cost of sacrificing their personal lives, since they work 60 to 70 hours per week.
“We have repeatedly raised the issue with both the ministries of agriculture and finance, but, unfortunately, despite assurances and promises, we have not received an adequate response,” the letter concludes.
Meanwhile, the forestry department issued another warning on Thursday warning of the risk of fires over the August 15 bank holiday weekend.
“We call on the public to be particularly careful in avoiding actions and activities that may cause a fire and in cooperating closely with the staff of the forestry department,” the statement said.
“In particular, we urge people to clean up after outdoor activities and not to burn items that could cause a fire.”
Lighting fires to cook food is only allowed in designated picnic or barbecue areas, the department added.
The fine for those who start a fire without a license is up to 10 years in prison or € 50,000 or the two combined sentences according to the 2012 forestry law, and up to five years in prison or € 20,000 according to Fire Prevention in the Rural Areas Act 1988.
Anyone who sees smoke or fire in or near the forest should contact 1407 (forest service) or 112 (fire service).