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25 July, 2024
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Climate change and increased wildfires

Rising threat during July and August

Apostolis Tomaras

Apostolis Tomaras

The occurrence of the first wildfires just before we officially enter the summer period can be perceived as a warning of the danger that Cyprus faces in experiencing extreme environmental destruction from fires in the coming period. The repetition of the scenario of environmental desecration in Arakapas should not be considered unrealistic, especially when taking into account the warnings of experts that the level of danger for this year's summer season is increased. The remarks made by Mr. Nikolaides, the director of the Cyprus Meteorological Service, perfectly align with the data and are based on the seasonal forecast that temperatures during summer will be higher than normal. "This year, the danger of wildfires is increased, as we did not have significant rainfall in the inland and mountainous areas. Therefore, the danger index for this year will be high." What Mr. Nikolaides said perfectly aligns with the temperatures that prevailed during the recent fires that occurred in the Paphos district in May, with the thermometer in Polis Chrysochous and Paphos Airport reaching 37 and 38 degrees Celsius, while the temperature in the inland areas was 21 degrees. The alarm bells are already ringing for the summer, due to climate change, and it was one of the main issues addressed by the Meteorological Service to the Fire Department in order to prepare the firefighting mechanism and minimize the occurrence of disasters similar to those that took place in the mountainous areas of Larnaca and Limassol in the summer of 2021.

The "red" areas

Based on meteorological data since the beginning of the year, it is concluded that the increased level of fire danger during the summer period is determined in the inland and mountainous areas where rainfall has been reduced compared to other years. Additionally, the same data from the Meteorological Service indicates that this year's summer will experience temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius, which is the average in the inland areas of Cyprus. According to the same data, the increased fire danger is determined for the inland areas of Cyprus in the plain regions from the foothills of Troodos to the foothills of Pentadaktylos, and further east in the corresponding areas. The situation is clearer from the perspective of the Department of Forests, which plays a key role in fire protection and extinguishment matters. According to Charalambos Alexandrou, the director of the Department, special attention is given to five areas in Cyprus.

- Akama area (wider area)
- Dora-Mousera area
- Kivides-Avdemou area
- Pareklisia area
- Panagia Bridge area (Northern slopes of Troodos)

This year's summer period, although it started with encouraging incidents, presents worrying trends regarding the destructive outcomes of fires. As noted by Mr. Alexandrou, compared to the previous period, the number of incidents this year is below average, but the burned area has increased. This phenomenon is attributed to unusually strong winds that prevailed during the recent incidents in the Paphos District.

Months, hours

According to data from the Meteorological Service, the difficult to dangerous months for fire outbreaks this year are July and August. It is a period during which the highest temperature is recorded annually. Additionally, during the same period, "the ground and atmospheric air remain heated for a longer duration due to the extended daylight hours." The moisture content in the fuel material is at its lowest, while the local wind field is more intensified due to significant temperature differences. Interesting data also emerge regarding the hours during the day when the danger of fire outbreaks increases. As specified by the Meteorological Service, the dangerous fire-prone zone starts from noon until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. However, the time period extends in July and August until 6 o'clock in the evening.

The "general" wind

According to the Department of Forests, informal data is also available regarding the winds, which are considered the number one risk for the initiation and spread of fires. The Meteorological Service specifically mentions the southern areas during the early hours of the night when the winds are northerly and transition towards eastern directions. By midday, they become southeast winds and subsequently strengthen into southwestern winds until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, before weakening towards sunset. As described in "K" magazine by the director of the Department of Forests, in the recent incidents in Paphos, the greatest damage was not caused by high temperatures but by strong winds prevailing in the area.

One of the positive aspects of this year includes the operation of four automated fire detection systems, with positive initial results.

Preparations, shortcomings, and gaps

Apart from the assessments made regarding the level of danger this summer, open opinions about gaps and shortcomings are expressed in the most important part of fire protection. The Director of the Forest Department, Mr. Alexandrou, openly admits with disarming sincerity that there is an issue in terms of staffing the firefighting mechanism, despite significant progress compared to the previous period. "We have made preparations, and I assure you that although we have shortages in personnel and equipment, we are better off than last year." The existing shortages are identified in terms of human resources as well as ground equipment. In these circumstances, Mr. Alexandrou finds it positive that filling the gaps is underway, with the announcement of 20 positions and the procurement of 17 large firefighting vehicles and 25 medium-sized ones. It is a time-consuming process, taking 18 to 24 months, but it will not be a hindrance, as emphasized. "We will work with these shortages," assures the Director of the Forest Department. One of the positive aspects of this year includes the operation of four automated fire detection systems, with positive initial results.

Aerial means

Satisfactory sufficiency seems to be present in aerial firefighting resources. The Forest Department has at its disposal eight airborne firefighting units as a base. The Aviation Unit of the Department has two aircraft: one is a Thrush 550P, an American-made Single-Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) with a Pratt and Whitney Turboprop engine of 1,050 horsepower and a water-carrying capacity of 2,050 liters, and the second aircraft is an AIR TRACTOR 802F, an American-made SEAT with a Pratt and Whitney Turboprop engine of 1,370 horsepower and a water-carrying capacity of 3,017 liters. The monitoring and firefighting efforts are reinforced by four leased AIR TRACTOR aircraft and two KAMOF helicopters, which operate from the Larnaca, Paphos, and Akrotiri airports, where suitable facilities for supporting operations are maintained. The Forest Department has recommended the acquisition of two additional firefighting aircraft. Furthermore, in an effort to reduce operational downtime, the construction of a new channel in the Mammari area has been designed and implemented, from which aircraft will be able to replenish water and firefighting foam. In addition to the eight operational airborne units, the helicopters of the National Guard and Police, four in number, and two from British bases contribute to the efforts as needed. Cyprus also receives assistance from neighboring countries, as was the case with the fire in Arakapas, and through the European Civil Protection Mechanism RescEU, which will be available for Cyprus this year as well.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  climate  |  wildfire

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