North Cyprus
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Fire in North Cyprus

The fire of 1995 in Kyrenia Mountains

At the end of June 1995 Kyrenia region suffered the worst bush fire in living memory when more than 160 square kilometres of beautiful forest and olive groves between Lapta in the west and Besparmak peak to the east were left burnt to ash.

The blaze, set simultaneously at several points late on a windy afternoon, was believed to be the result of an unknown arsonist intended to strike a blow at North Cyprus tourism and thus may have caused the devastating inferno. Paranoid speculation has embraced Greek Cypriots, Greek, Israelis, Syrians and more likely PKK (Kurdish separatist) activists from the Turkish mainland. Eleven people were arrested, following an angry mob throwing upon a police car carrying three of them to Kyrenia District Court. Reported as Syrians, they remanded in police custody for three days. The three others were later released but there was no news on the rest of the suspects, or no final verdict given and the identity of the perpetrator remained a mystery.

It was almost after a day that effective fire-fighting measures were undertaken, featuring the lack of staff, equipment, and general funding of North Cyprus’s forestry division. Help was offered by the Greek-Cypriot administration, but it was turned down as their ground vehicles were no use for fighting the flames in such mountainous terrain and as reported, only aircrafts and helicopters were needed. Turkish and British helicopters then flew into the action spraying over the seawater from 1000-litre tubs, donated by one of the British Sovereign Bases. The colossal forest fire which sent thousands fleeing from villages and holiday homes as a wall of flame raged along the Kyrenia mountain range lasted for three days. 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 Operation, erupted. Kyrenia range gleamed strangely, giving the mountain an awesome volcano-like display of destruction.

After the disaster an enormous clear-up operation was launched as well as touring the fire-hit villages. There was no human casualty reported in the disaster, only some 10 minor injuries among thousands of soldiers, policemen, firemen, and civilian volunteers who had battled the flames. Many animals and vehicles were lost. The total number of the houses destroyed by the blaze was about 50 and the damage to the real estate went up to £3, 5 million pounds, with the entire value of destroyed wood and the crops estimated at approximately £43, 5 million sterling. Fortunately, hotels and hotel complexes were left miraculously intact, just with some three bungalows hit.

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", the witnesses said, and was badly burnt. Buffavento Castle escaped.
The biggest tragedy fell on the North Cyprus’ rich woodland. During the latter half of 1995, the Anatolian woodcutters were given a task to clean-cut the burnt zone and the logs were shipped by daily barge to paper mills in Turkey before terracing, reseeding and replanting of the new young trees took place. The clear land was replaced by growing mimosa mixed with baby pines and cypresses of three varieties.

This type of Mediterranean forest takes over fifty years to retrieve the shape of maturity (in the case of the olive groves, several hundred years) and especially the dry winters that came later prevented their natural re-sprouting. Seemingly bare hillsides, with scrub vegetation extending just above the sea level to the watershed of the Besparmak barrier range reflect this unhappy feature after the ecological disaster in Kyrenia landscape.

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