PICS: Four Dead as Cyprus Suffers Worst Wildfire Since Founding

Cypurs
IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP via Getty Images

(AFP) — Cyprus said a deadly forest fire that was the worst to hit the island in decades was close to being brought under control Sunday after water bombing by Greek and Israeli aircraft.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire broke out Saturday afternoon and swept through the southern foothills of the Troodos mountain range as the country grappled with a blistering heatwave.

The fire — described by the forestry department as the worst since the Republic of Cyprus’ establishment in 1960 — killed four Egyptian labourers, destroyed 50 homes, damaged power lines and forced the evacuation of 10 villages.

“Everything was a nightmare and pure hell here; the village was surrounded by fire,” said Akis Giorgiou, 45, from the hamlet of Arakapas.

By late Sunday afternoon, the government reported a “reduction of (fire) outbreaks” thanks to “effective water drops by Greek and Israeli aircraft”.

Trees burn in a forest on the slopes of the Throodos mountain chain, as a giant fire rages on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, during the night of July 3, 2021. – A huge forest blaze in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece and other countries deployed fire-fighting planes to the Mediterranean island. The fire began in the afternoon of July 3 and swept through districts in the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave. (Photo by Georgio PAPAPETROU / AFP) (Photo by GEORGIO PAPAPETROU/AFP via Getty Images)

The Egyptian government said the four dead were farm workers from the North African country, while Nicosia vowed in a tweet to “stand by the victims’ families… offering every support”.

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

The blaze destroyed 55 square kilometres (21 square miles) of forest and farmland, according to the forestry department.
Thick gnarled trunks of ancient olive trees, emblematic of the holiday island, were reduced to smouldering stumps.

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

Their burnt-out vehicle was found at the bottom of a ravine and the four bodies some 600 metres (yards) away. A policeman at the scene told AFP that they appeared to have fled the vehicle on foot but run in the direction of the wind-fanned flames, in a doomed attempt to escape.

Cars drive past a burning forest on the slopes of the Throodos mountain chain, as a giant fire rages on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, during the night of July 3, 2021. – A huge forest blaze in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece and other countries deployed fire-fighting planes to the Mediterranean island. The fire began in the afternoon of July 3 and swept through districts in the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave. (Photo by Georgio PAPAPETROU / AFP) (Photo by GEORGIO PAPAPETROU/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Aerial firefighting’ 

In areas where the fire had been tamed, grey ash replaced yellowed scrub as far as the eye could see.

A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of causing the blaze, a charge he denied.

Police said an eyewitness had seen him leaving the village of Arakapas in his car at the same time the fire started there. He could face charges of recklessly causing the four deaths.

Anastasiades visited a crisis management centre in the village of Vavatsinia, a few kilometres (miles) east of the blaze, on Sunday morning, the CNA news agency reported.

The Greek Cypriot leader said the blaze had appeared largely contained but could resurge.

Firefighters were seen along the road leading to Vavatsinia and several helicopters hovered above the fire as thick grey smoke obscured the sky.

An AFP correspondent in Ora village 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.

Israel deployed a C-130 Hercules and two “Air Tractor” firefighting aircraft.

A Spanish Air Tractor AT-802A firefighting plane dumps water on the southern slopes of the Troodos mountains close to Agioi Vavatsinias village as a major fire continues to burn on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on July 4, 2021. – A huge forest blaze in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece and other countries deployed fire-fighting planes to the Mediterranean island. The fire began in the afternoon of July 3 and swept through districts in the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave. (Photo by Georgio PAPAPETROU / AFP) (Photo by GEORGIO PAPAPETROU/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Homes deemed safe’ 

Britain, which has military bases on Cyprus, deployed two search and rescue helicopters.

A government spokeswoman said later that the situation was close to being brought under control.

Teams would be deployed immediately to start evaluating and registering damaged homes and property for compensation, she added.

“We hope that as winds die down and temperatures fall in the evening, the situation will be better, and hopefully by (Monday) morning, the fire will be under control,” forestry department chief Charalambos Alexandrou said, quoted by CNA.

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

In the past few days, the temperature has topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) inland and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

A picture taken on July 4, 2021 shows destroyed vehicles at Ora village on the southern slopes of the Troodos mountains close to Agioi Vavatsinias village as a major fire continues to burn on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. – A huge forest blaze in Cyprus killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages, police said Sunday, as Greece, Israel and other countries deployed fire-fighting planes to the Mediterranean island. (Photo by Iakovos HATZISTAVROU / AFP) (Photo by IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP via Getty Images)

Follow Breitbart London on Facebook: Breitbart London

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.