Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has instructed officials to look for ways to cut red tape in the prevention and handling of fires, following a devastating blaze that killed four workers and exposed lack of coordination between state and local authorities.
During a late night meeting on Monday at the Presidential Palace, Anastasiades gave state officials and fire experts 15 days to come up with proposals aimed at avoiding bureaucratic procedures wherever possible in an emergency response to a wildfire.
Ten days ago, four seasonal farm workers from Egypt were killed when they were trapped while trying to escape a wildfire, which also destroyed homes, livestock, and crops and caused millions worth of damages.
Rural communities in the Troodos foothills within Larnaca and Limassol districts were affected, with locals accusing authorities of not doing enough to stop the flames from burning down their homes.
In one case, a local farmer said he begged one of three forest fire engines in the area to rush to his property and stop a fire on a wooden bungalow from extending onto his house, telling media they told him it was not their job to save houses in the forest.
Nouris pointed to other issues including the lack of hydrant hook-ups in private water wells and the waste of thousands of sandwiches that never reached fire fighters and volunteers on the frontline
Other cases included frustration on the part of state authorities, with Interior Minister Nikos Nouris saying officials in charge lost valuable time trying to locate or coordinate the use of water tankers and earth-moving equipment.
“They had none over there at the state level and in terms of the private sector, they first had to locate owners and operators, and then move forward with their requisition so that they could take part in putting out the fire,” Nouris told lawmakers recently.
“Valuable time was lost,” the minister said.
The loss of time was also an issue raised in local media, with reports saying the four victims, who were outside Odou village and initially away from the fire, had been told to fill a tank mounted on a pickup truck with water and drive it down to the village.
Reports suggested they had to ditch the vehicle and turn back on foot to escape the fire but they were all engulfed in flames and perished as they were desperately trying to run to a safe area.
Nouris also pointed to other issues including the lack of hydrant hook-ups in private water wells and the waste of thousands of sandwiches and other food items that never reached fire fighters and volunteers on the frontline.
Government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos said it was in during Monday’s meeting that steps ought to include specific actions to strengthen prevention and coordination as well as improvement of communications between services.
Pelekanos also mentioned the need for upgrading volunteerism as an institution, strengthening prevention policies and making use of technology.
The spokesman also admitted that legislation would have to be tightened with stricter rules which would also allow the immediate requisition of private vehicles and equipment.