There will be an increase in patrolling that will include the army, along with forestry services and the fire brigade, to protect against forest fires during the upcoming fire season, Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides told the public broadcaster ERT on Thursday.
He also announced plans for a “forest commando” force of 440 forest fire fighters and 60 forestry service staff that will be deployed by the end of May or early June, as the process for its selection has already begun.
Stylianides additionally emphasised the efforts being made with the justice ministry to increase the penalties for starting fires through negligence.
“During this period we had fires, roughly the same number as every year, of which 96 pct were the result of human negligence. For this reason, we are striving with the justice ministry to increase the penalties in order to send a message that is both deterrent and precautionary,” he said, noting that the state should not have to pay such as high cost because “some person is irresponsible and allows the burning of some branches to turn into a forest fire.”
The minister said that the forest commando force will greatly reinforce fire fighting efforts during the fire season, as they will be highly trained, with the selection of people who have served in the special forces in the military, while 95 pct will have done a stint in the fire brigade as either seasonal fire fighters or volunteers.
He also announced plans to reinforce the fleet of fire fighting aircraft and to improve the equipment for fire fighters and volunteers through grants.
“This year we will be reinforced with more aerial means; we have solved a major, long-term problem with the NATO mechanism, which the country had to contend with for years. We will have more, more flexible and more effective aerial means,” he said.
Regarding the Aigis programme, he said: “We are better prepared. This year we will also have the army with patrols together with fire fighters and others from the forestry services and this increase in patrols will help us stay in control and react within the first 15-20 minutes – if possible – of a fire breaking out. This is the most crucial point.”
He also pointed to the resumption, after 24 years, of cooperation between the fire brigade and forestry services, which he said would multiply efficiency.
The minister refuted reports that the amount of land burnt in forest fires was higher than in previous years during the first quarter of the year, saying that precisely the opposite was true and that the amount of land burnt was actually less due to the prompt action of the fire brigade.