North Cyprus  
 


July 1, 1995 FIRE IN KYRENIA MOUNTAINS 
The below news items and pictures are quoted courtesy of the weekly , issue 189.
  Catastrophe
The massive forest fire which sent thousands fleeing from villages and and holiday homes as a wall of flame roared along the Girne mountains for more than 72 hours -reducing some 16,000 acres of beautiful forest land to ashes and charred tree stumpsand gutting two dozen houses- was yesterday said to have been brought under control. Flames flared up again yesterday morning around the Buffavento Castle area, but were quickly contained. Four Turkish light aircraft continued to swoop low across the range to spray water on the remaining small pockets of fire in a triangular area around the Castle. President Rauf Denktash, who visited the scene of the devas- tation earlier, while the fire raged on, described the blaze as an ecological catastrophe, and appealed to the world to help restore North Cyprus. A daunting clear-up operation swung into action yesterday morning, with government officials beginning the mammoth task of touring the fire-hit villages and areas to establish precisely the damage -currently estimated at some UK 43.5 million.
  Nightmare
Stunned residents, too, were getting down to their own individual salvage work as the three day nightmare seemed at last to end. Miraculously, mountainside villages caught up in the blaze emerged largely unscathed as the flames swept relentlessly eastwards, whipped up by winds gusting at up to 50 mph. Only a few outlying properties were damaged or destroyed. Officials said no-one was killed and only some 10 minor injuries were reported among thousands of soldiers, policemen, firemen, and civilian volunteers who had battled since Tuesday afternoon to halt the flames. President Denktash admitted the Fire Service and the Forestry Department had been unprepared for an emergency on such a large scale. Many this week paid tribute to the bravery and dedication of all who risked their lives in the face of the blaze. Help came from Turkey, the multi-national United Nations peace-keeping force and from personnel on the Sovereign British Base Areas, among them Greek-Cypriots. There was also praise for electricity and telephone technicians who laboured to restore services. But there was only scorn and hatred for unknown arsonists who, many believe, may have started the devastating inferno. No official verdict has yet been reached about the cause of the fire, but the Prime Minister Hakki Atun, asked about the possibility that the fire may have been started deliberately, said: We are taking it [the possibility of arson] very seriously. Those who raise their hands against our national wealth will be severely punished.
Eleven people were arrested during Tuesday and Wednesday and an angry mob fell upon a police car carrying three of them to Kyrenia District Court on Thursday. The three men, reported in KIBRIS newspaper to be Syrians, were bundled into court, where they were remanded in police custody for three days. Three others arrested were reportedly about to be released yesterday, but there was no news on the other eight.As officials yesterday began touring fire-hit areas to record the damage, the total number of houses destroyed by the flames was put at 25. A further 21 were said to have been damaged. Numerous vehicles and animals were also lost. Hotels and holiday complexes, vital to the TRNC's economy, escaped the inferno virtually intact. Tourism Ministry under- secretary Hasan Ercakica said yesterday the only reported damage was to two bungalows at the Ambelia holiday village and one at the Altinkaya complex, both near Bellapais. At other touristic sites, only gardens were scorched by the fierce heat, he said, but there was no damage to the buildings. Holidaymakers caught in the drama were offered the chance to transfer from their hotels to the Famagusta area, he said, but none chose to do so, electing instead to evacuate temporarily to the safer coastal belt and return once the danger had passed. Tourism bosses acted yesterday to try and undo the damage wrought by the inaccurate reports abroad of more than a dozen villages destroyed and firefighters killed. In a letter being sent to the TRNC Represen- tative Offices, travel agencies, MPs, and information outlets abroad, Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Atay Ahmet Rasit sought to reassure holidaymakers that the Norths touristic facilities were unharmed, that inhabited areas had been evacuated in time and that the country was safe to visit. Mr Rasit wrote: There is business as usual in all the touistic complexes and holtels. There is no risks involved and the situation is under complete control. The only historical casualty of the blaze appears to have been the 13th century St Hilarion Castle, perched high above Kyrenia, which "went up like a Roman candle" during the first hours of fire. Noone had been able to enter the still-smouldering castle yesterday to assess how badly it had been burnt. 

Buffavento Castle escaped. The biggest tragedy befell the TRNC's rich woodland, consumed by fire along more than 25 miles of mountainside. The final toll of trees was still mounting yesterday afternoon, as last of the flames licked the slopes around Buffavento Castle, but already the cost in forestry terms alone was estimated by stunned officials at some UK 30 million. Forestry Department director Faik Koyuncuoglu said most of the trees destroyed were pine and cypress, in addition to the cultivated olive and citrus groves lost. They were my children, the trees I planted eight years ago and allmy years of hard work went up in smoke, he said, choking back tears. Another enviromentalist said the colossal damage would take about a century to repair fully -to recreate the variety and size of the trees- although the first rains of the winter would quickly bring out greenery. The first steps towards recovery were being taken yesterday, with the initial meeting of the committee formed to tackle the disaster, led by Finance and Economy Minister Salih Cosar. The committee met for an hour before embarking on a village-to-village tour, starting with the government-owned properties at Karaman (Karmi) village. Mr Cosar said officials would be working through the weekend, with municipal and utilities staff, to restore the electricity, water, telephones and roads. Those who had lost their homes would be given temporary accomodation and help, he said, and particular attention would be paid to the plight of homeless foreign residents, who had no family in the TRNC to aid them. Compensation would follow later, said Mr Cosar, who said the government would do all in its power to get everything restored quickly. 

On Thursday, the Council of Ministers met in special session and approved a Five-Finger Mountain Range Fire Special Fund Act, under which civil servants will have an extra two per cent docked from their salaries for six months to pay for the regaining of national wealth and compensating and rehabilitating the victims of the fire. Companies are required to make the same level of contribution from their 1994 income. Mr Cosar said the extra tax would be bound to be unpopular, but the disaster was a national concern. We have to pull together in good times and in bad, he urged. The terrifying fire -the biggest inferno in the TRNC's history- was said to have begun in the tiny village of Malatya, south-east of Alsancak. But, flames around the Karsiyaka area, miles to the west, were also seen in the same hour on Tuesday evening, and the cause will only be determined by fire experts who have been flown into North Cyprus. Strongly westerly winds and swirling air pockets were blamed for fanning the flames -but many saidafterwards that the strength of the gusts was probably what saved the properties, hurling flames rapidly over and around. Residents and tourists based beside the sea watched in numb horror as the blazing area spread, while fear reigned in many mountain areas. Hundreds collected up personal papers, money, jewellery and personal belongings, fleeing to safer areas in the pitch dark of a widespread power cut. In many villages, numerous traffic accidents took place as frightened residents fled. Two firemen were also hurt when their tender somersaulted south of Kyrenia. As the gusting winds continued, the rear of Alsancak and its neighbouring eastern villages were soon dominated by firework-like glows as hundreds of community volunteers and servicemen tried in vain to combat the fast-sweeping flames. 

   
  Appeal 
  A first appeal for outside help was made just before 7pm on Tuesday, when TRNC authorities requested, via the UN peace-keeping force, that British firefighting helicopters be sent in. The British Military said their helicopters could not be deployed at that time because they had no night-flying capability and the pilots were unfamiliar with the terrain. An hour later, it was requested -and confirmed by the British- that the helicopters would come in at first light. Until then, there was nothing to be done but to try to contain the flames from the ground. An offer of help was also made by the Greek-Cypriot administration, but Mr Denktash said their conventional ground vehicles were no use for fighting the flames in such mountainous terrain -and that only aircraft and helicopters were needed. The President later rejected the Greek-Cypriot media claims that he had snubbed the offer of assistance. We have not rejected the offer of help; We will write a letter to Mr Clerides and thank him for his offer, the President said. By midnight on Tuesday, the first scant English-language warnings were broadcast on BRT, Bayrak radio and television, as the blaze swirled to the mountain-tops. Occasional blasts were heard as gas bottles exploded, and bombs, shells, and mines, thought to have remained scattered in forest areas since the 1974 Peace Opertion, erupted. *AWESOME By early on Wednesday, the entire western flank of the Kyrenia mountain range glowed strangely, giving an awesome volcano-like display of destruction, and the main road from Kyrenia to Nicosia was closed to traffic as the fireball crept east, threatening the southern edge of Kyrenia and hitting Zeytinlik village. The first British Wessex helicopter flew into action at 5:30am on Wednesday, followed by six firefighting appliances which crossed through the Ledra Palace checkpoint within 20 minutes. A second helicopter was sent in soon after 8am, and for the rest of that day and much of the next, the two helicopters scooped up sea-water to dump on the flames. As Wednesday wore on, strong winds continued and smoke palls rose from vast charchoal-black and still-smouldering former forest zones while firefighters battled in vain to stop the flames leaping east across the Kyrenia-Nicosia road and engulfing Bellapais, Ozankoy and Dogankoy villages. Radio announcements appealed for volunteers to protect the Teknecik power station on the seaside east of Kyrenia and the trees there were cut down as scores of people arrived with water tenders, earth-movers, bulldozers, and chain-saws. Smoke was roaring up the slopes of Buffavento on Thursday morning and the blaze spread Degirmenlik, by which time 17 villages were reported as having been evacuated and four fire-extinguishing aircrafts had been sent from Turkey, plus a ship with bulldozers, and firefighting gear. A hesitant all-clear was announced yesterday, after a giant firebreak was formed around the slopes of Buffavento. Workers had also halted flames threatening the Alevkaya Forestry Station -home to the treasured North Cyprus Herbarium.  
   
  (Reports by G.Chapman, G.Fraser, and T. Kav of weekly Cyprus Today)  
   
  Tourist Clue to Cause of Fire 
  A US social worker, on holiday with his wife, could still hold vital clues to the cause of the blaze at the foothills village of Malatya. The man, who was trekking on the popular route between Ilgaz and Alsancak, has already given eye-witness evidence to TRNC police and might be called upon to give a full, official statemen. The holiday- maker, who has now returned to his home outside a major US city, saw what he believes could have been an incendiary device explode near a blue motorbike parked near a ruin. Other accounts from Alsancak at the same time late Tuesday afternoon have revealed dust-storm-like brown clouds billowing from behind a peak south-east of the village. Mountainside smoke was also spotted in the Karsiyaka area from Alsancak. On Thursday, fire experts in protective clothing were searching Malatya for further clues.  
   
  Offers of Help Come in Blaze Aftermath  
  Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, visiting North Cyprus for the first time , viewed the stricken mountainsides by helicopter and assured Turkish-Cypriots that Turkey would do its best to dress your wounds. Mr Demirel, who made a three-and-a-half-hour trip to North Cyprus on Thursday, told villagers in Lapta: The whole Turkish nation is with you. He said he had come to express his sympathy and to extend the greetings and condolences of 60 million Turkish people. Mr Demirel was accompanied by Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Mr Hikmet Cetin, Minister of State in Charge of Cyprus affairs Mr Abdulbaki Atac, and Mr Kemal Demir, the head of Turkey's Red Crescent organisation. Offers of help to restore the ravages of the fire have already come from several quarters. TRNC Prime Minister Hakki Atun said his Turkish counterpart, Tansu Ciller had also offered Turkey's assistance to rebuild gutted homes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office has requested details of the North Cyprus' needs and the UN peace-keeping force said yesterday it was ready to discuss every aspect of how to tackle the consequences of the fire with the North's authorities.
   
  Condolences
  British Deputy High Commissioner Colin Jennings wrote to President Denktash offering Britain's sincere condolences. British helicopters, firemen, and personnel had already been involved in the firefifgting. If there are urgent humanitarian needs which cannot be met from local resources, we stand ready to give whatever rapid emergency help we can provide, wrote Mr Jennings. British MP John Taylor, a member of the Westminster Friends of North Cyprus group, urged governments and enviromentalists to assist in overcoming the ecnomic disaster and enviromental crisis which had struck. Offers of temporary beds and small items of furniture, as well as clothing, have been made by Kyrenia's Red Cross and Cheshire Home volunteers.

Rev Canon Arthur Rider said yesterday: Transport will have to be arranged, but we might be able to supply various items -on a temporary basis to help those desperately in need. The Young Businessperson's Association and civil service trade union KTAMS launched a fund-raising campaign with gifts of 60 and 50 million TL respectively. Many local banks have opened special accounts for donations from the public. Near East University president Dr Suat Gunsel yesterday announced the establishment of a nursery garden in order to donate saplings to institutions wishing to plant new trees in the burnt countryside. Dr Gunsel said the university would also clear one scorched site to plant and raise saplings itself.   

   
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