Blazing a Path Forward

On July 3 in the small village of Arakapas, Cyprus, the temperature was about 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The sun was blazing and the wind was fierce. Suddenly and without warning, a wall of fire raced down the bed of the local stream, endangering everything in its path. 

But Arakapas was only the beginning. The fire spread rapidly across the Limassol and Larnaca districts in multiple directions, threatening lives and property, and devastating the environment. Four people were killed when they were caught in its fast-moving flames, and assistance was needed from Israel, Great Britain, Greece and Italy before it was brought under control. Some have called it the worst wildfire in the nation’s history.

On Tuesday, we visited Arakapas. Mr. Kostas Mouzakitis, who owns the one local restaurant, Kalamaras, told us how incredibly fast the fire was moving as he frantically cut shrubs to create a fire break. He also sprayed water in the direction of the fire in an effort to protect his property, which luckily was spared. 

We followed the path the flames took along the river, documenting the remains of olive groves, orchards, trees and shrubs, and small structures. It was obvious that the fire was severe and the losses were extensive. 

But with the passing of time, the advent of winter, and its attendant rainfall, some small signs of new life are beginning to peek through the sodden ash and charred remains of trees and shrubs. Small wildflowers are blooming. Charred trees are sprouting new branches and leaves. Grasses and clovers are creating new carpets of green.

At the end of a long day of capturing photos, we trudged back to the restaurant, our hands and clothes covered with ash. Along the way, we encountered a wall of murals painted by local residents in vivid colors. One of them depicts a firefighter offering a flower to a young girl. Once inside, Mr. Kostas told us that these paintings were created after the wildfire to express the positive spirit of local residents about recovery. 

Of course, viewing the aftermath of such a serious fire was a sobering and difficult moment. Too many wildfires are burning too much of the world, and we don’t yet know how to stop this from happening. But it was also obvious that both nature and people were quick to begin the rebuilding process. 

Thinking of the bigger picture, we were reminded that there is still a window for meaningful action by all of us in response to the climate crisis. Of course, we have to act soon enough if we hope to safeguard what is needed for our survival. 

This time, Mr. Mouzakitis saved his restaurant. This time, Arakapas is rebuilding. This time, new life offers hope.

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