“Pure Hell”: Cyprus hit by worst forest fire in decades

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“Pure Hell”: Cyprus hit by worst forest fire in decades


Cypriot authorities said a deadly forest fire, the worst to strike the island in decades, was on the verge of being brought under control after water bombardments by Greek and Israeli planes.

Fanned by high winds, the blaze broke out on Saturday afternoon and swept through the southern foothills of the Troodos mountain range as the country grappled with a scorching heat wave.

The blaze killed four Egyptian workers, destroyed 50 homes, damaged farms and power lines, and forced the evacuation of 10 villages.

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

In late Sunday afternoon, the government reported a “reduction in [fire] epidemics ”thanks to“ efficient water drops by Greek and Israeli planes ”.

The Egyptian government said the four dead were farm workers from the North African country, while Nicosia pledged to “stand by the families of the victims … offering them all their support.”

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

More than 50 square kilometers (20 square miles) of forests and farmland have been destroyed. Thick gnarled trunks of hundred-year-old olive trees, emblematic of the resort island, have been reduced to smoking stumps.

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

Their burned-out vehicle was found at the bottom of a ravine and the four bodies 600 meters away. A police officer at the scene said they appeared to have fled the vehicle on foot, but ran towards the blazing blazes in a doomed attempt.

A burnt mountain area in the Larnaca region. Photography: Katia Christodoulou / EPA

In areas where fires had been brought under control, gray ash replaced endless yellowed brush in non-forested areas.

A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of causing the fire, which he denied. Police said a witness saw him leaving the village of Arakapas in his car just as the fire broke out there, and that he could be accused of recklessly causing the four deaths.

Anastasiades visited a crisis management center in the village of Vavatsinia, a few kilometers east of the blaze, on Sunday morning, CNA news agency reported. The Greek Cypriot leader said the blaze appeared largely contained but could recur.

Firefighters were seen along the road to Vavatsinia and several helicopters flew over the blaze as thick gray smoke obscured the sky. An AFP correspondent in the village of Ora reported seeing several houses set on fire.

Janez Lenarčič, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, said on Saturday that the EU’s “aerial firefighting capability” had been mobilized, with Italy and Greece sending planes to help.

Israel deployed a C-130 Hercules and two “aerial tractor” firefighting planes. – Britain, which has military bases in Cyprus, has deployed two search and rescue helicopters.

A government spokeswoman later said the situation was on the verge of being brought under control.

“The fire and forestry services have inspected the affected communities and now consider them safe,” spokeswoman Niovi Parisinou said.

“The effort is continuing because complacency is not allowed until all fires are finally extinguished,” she said, adding that the electricity supply was gradually being restored.

“Instructions have already been given for people to return to where homes are deemed safe. “

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

Cyprus has experienced prolonged heat waves and periods of drought in recent years.

Over the past few days, the temperature has risen above 40 ° C (104 ° F) inland and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

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