Overview 2023: Cyprus
Climate Change Results in Severe And Destructive Season
BY PETROS PETROU AND KOSTAKIS PAPAGEORGIOU
Situated at the north-eastern end of the Mediterranean basin, Cyprus is the third largest island in the region, with an area of 9.251 square kilometres; it is mostly a mountainous country with an intense Mediterranean climate.
The period from May 1 to Oct. 30, is considered as the official forest fire season in Cyprus. As in all European countries in the same geographical zone, fire is considered the major destructive agent for forests and wildland.
For Cyprus, dealing with forest fires is an issue of essential public safety. According to the National Risk Assessment of the Republic of Cyprus, forest fires present the highest level of risk, compared to other risks, such as earthquakes, coastal erosion, and floods.
The Department of Forests is the responsible authority for the protection of the state forests and of a two-kilometre zone from the state forest boundaries, against fires. This area constitutes about 57 per cent of the land on which forest fires and wildfires occur. For the protection of forests from the risk of forest fires, an integrated fire management system is applied, which is based on three pillars: prevention; preparedness; and suppression.
Fire Protection Measures And Actions
As far as the prevention of forest fires is concerned, the main measures applied include the implementation of a public awareness and enlightenment campaign, the application of forest legislation, the construction and maintenance of firefighting infrastructure and the use of fuel management practices.
In the context of the second pillar, which concerns preparedness, the main measures applied are continued planning and monitoring, the improvement of co-ordination and co-operation among all stakeholders involved in fire fighting, the training of personnel, the organization of firefighting exercises, the operation of fire lookout stations, and the implementation of air and ground patrols.
The fire suppression pillar includes the implementation of a duty roster for personnel, the formation of the firefighting squad, the use of fire engines and heavy machineries such as bulldozers, and the availability of air firefighting means.
The most destructive wildfire of the year in Cyprus started at around 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. The fire ignited near Paramytha, Limassol District, and burned 8.8 square kilometres covered with wild vegetation. Photos courtesy of the Department of Forests (Cyprus).
Implementation Of New Technologies In Fire Management
Following a disastrous fire that occurred in Cyprus in 2021 that burned 44.5 square kilometres and caused the death of four people, the president of Cyprus asked for a study to consider the introduction of a holistic technological system in fire management. Among the measures that were included in this study and already implemented, is the use of electroptic systems that use heat sensors for the detection of thermal anomalies and therefore for the automatic detection of fire ignitions. So far, four systems have been installed and are operating in different forest areas. Moreover, for surveillance purposes, unmanned aerial vehicles are used. Other measures proposed in the study and planned for implementation include the use of aerostats for surveillance and the supplement of mobile co-ordination centres for use as incident command posts.
The 2023 Fire Season In Cyprus
The 2023 fire season in Cyprus was severe and particularly destructive. Following a winter with below average precipitation and a hot and dry summer, the conditions were particularly favourable for the ignition and rapid spread of forest fires. In contrast, fire statistics by the end of June showed that 2023 was a light year for forest fires, with a near average number of forest fires and a lower burned area compared to the last decade average. However, a period of prolonged heatwave conditions that lasted for almost three weeks starting in mid-July, with temperatures reaching 44 C to 46 C in some areas, worsened conditions and reflected negatively on the island’s fire danger. Since then, the country has experienced aggressive fire activity, an aboveaverage number of fires and burned area, and the ignition of several significant fire incidents that had severe impacts on communities and the environment.
Statistically, July 2023 will go down as one of the hottest months in history and regarding the number of forest fires, as one of the worst on record.
2023 FIRE OCCURRENCE, AFFECTED SURFACES AND MAJOR FIRES
Up to mid-September of 2023, Cyprus experienced 83 forest fires, affecting a total land surface of 2,073 hectares, mostly wooded areas. Of these, eight fires were more than 50 hectares in size. The 10-year average is 66 fires and 1,528 hectares. Comparing the above figures with 10-year averages, there is an increase of 26 per cent regarding the number of forest fires and 36 per cent regarding the burned area.
The most destructive wildfire of the year started at around 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. The fire ignited near Paramytha, Limassol District, and burned 8.8 square kilometres covered with wild vegetation. The fire swept through several communities of the Limassol Province and apart from the vegetation, destroyed livestock facilities and damaged houses in the area. Residents of the affected communities were evacuated. On Aug. 6, the government requested the support of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism to tackle the fire event. The Cyprus government requested assistance from nearby nonEU countries, based on bilateral agreements. In total, 20 aerial aircraft were involved in the firefighting operation: 11 national assets composed of five aircrafts and six helicopters; the rescEU module from Greece composed of two aircraft; two aircraft from Israel; two helicopters from Lebanon; and three helicopters from Jordan.
On Saturday, Sept. 9 at around 1:30 p.m., a massive fire that started near Akrounta community, Limassol District, burned 4.6 square kilometres, covered with forest vegetation. The fire swept through Limassol State Forest. Scattered houses in the area were preventively evacuated. Cyprus requested assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Italy responded to the request, offering one module of two Canadair aircrafts. However, due to improvement of the firefighting operation the following day, the request for assistance was withdrawn. The Cyprus government requested assistance from Jordan, based on a bilateral agreement. Jordan responded with two helicopters. The fire was suppressed on the morning of Monday, Sept. 11.
Climate Change And Forest Fires
The increasing trend of forest fires frequency and extent, as a result mainly of climate change, is a new reality for Cyprus. Limited precipitation and frequent long-lasting periods of heatwaves are worsening the situation in Cyprus, affecting both fire ignitions and the intensity of forest fires. Facing the challenges of climate change, with longer fire seasons and more extreme fire weather and behaviour, is not an easy task. Assessing the existing system and identifying weaknesses and areas of improvement, is the crucial step for better and effective fire management.
Petros Petrou holds B.Sc. in Forestry, M.Sc. in forestry, sustainable management of environment and natural resources, M.Sc. in ecology and protection of forest ecosystems and a PhD in silviculture-applied ecology from the Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. Petrou has authored or co-authored 10 papers in international peer reviewed journals and a number of papers presented at peer reviewed conferences. Since 2008, Petrou has been employed as a conservator of forests in the Cyprus Department of Forests. Petrou served as a lecturer in the Cyprus Forestry College from 2008 to 2015; from 2015 through 2018 he was head of the utilization sector, and since June 2018 he has served as the fire protection officer of the Department of Forests. Petrou has been active in forest fire management since he started working in the Department of Forests in 2008; Petrou represents the department in forest fire related committees and consultations in Cyprus, in the European Union, and other relative organisations.