• Monday, Sep 27, 2021
  • Last Update : 09:23 am

4 dead in Cyprus' worst forest fire in decades

  • Published at 04:42 pm July 4th, 2021
Cyprus Wildfire
A picture taken from the village of Vavatsinia in the Larnaca district of Cyprus, shows a giant wildfire raging on the nearby hills, during the night of July 3, 2021 AFP

Greece, Israel and other countries have deployed fire-fighting aircraft to the Mediterranean island

A huge forest blaze raging in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece, Israel and other countries deployed fire-fighting aircraft to the Mediterranean island.

The fire began on Saturday afternoon and has swept through districts in the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave.

"It is a tragedy," President Nicos Anastasiades said on Twitter, describing it as "the largest fire since 1974" when the island was divided after Turkey occupied its northern third. 

The blaze had caused "loss of life" and destroyed property and forest lands, Anastasiades said, adding that "the government will provide immediate assistance to the victims and the families of the victims.

"We will not leave anyone abandoned in the destruction of the fire."

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said that four charred bodies were found outside the village of Odos in Larnaca district. 

"Forensic examiners are going to the scene for identification," he told reporters on Sunday. 

"All the indications support the fact that these are the four missing persons we have been searching for since yesterday," he said, adding that all four are thought to be Egyptian nationals.

The daily Phileleftheros newspaper said their bodies were found about 400 metres from their burnt-out vehicle.

A 67-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion he started the blaze. He was seen by an eyewitness leaving the village of Arakapas in his car at the same time the fire started there on Saturday, police said.

Extended heatwave

Anastasiades visited a crisis management centre in the village of Vavatsinia, located a few kilometres east of the blaze, on Sunday morning, before heading to areas ravaged by the flames, according to the CNA news agency.

He said the area destroyed by fire exceeded 55 square kilometres, adding that the blaze appeared largely contained but could resurge.

"The high temperatures and the wind are our biggest dangers," he said. 

Firefighters were seen along the road leading to Vavatsinia and several helicopters hovered above the fire as a thick grey smoke obscured the sky in much of the south of the island.

An AFP correspondent in the village of Ora reported seeing several burned out homes.

Janez Lenarcic, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, said on Saturday its "aerial firefighting capacity" had been mobilised, with Italy and Greece sending planes to help.

Two other firefighting planes were scheduled to take off from Israel.

Israel's firefighting authority said that the planes were due to land in Larnaca, where they would join the Italian and Greek teams and also Spanish and British crews. 

Cyprus has experienced extended heatwaves and periods of drought in recent years. 

In the past few days, the temperature has hit 40°C inland and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

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