Four dead as 'worst ever' wildfire tears through Cyprus
Strong winds after a week of experiencing a heatwave, Cyprus was hit by a devastating wildfire, killing at least four people and razing many homes. The fire, described 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. Cyprus search crews discovered the bodies of four people outside a fire-swept mountain village on Sunday, 4 July 2021, in what a Government minister called the “most destructive” blaze in the east Mediterranean island nation’s history. Minister Nicos Nouris said that Civil Defence volunteers discovered the remains just outside the village of Odou on the southern edge of the Troodos mountain range. Minister Nouris said Greek and Israeli aircraft joined 11 other aircraft and helicopters in fire fighting efforts. Around 70 fire engines, seven bulldozers and 10 water tankers were mobilised.
The wildfire, which began on Saturday afternoon, forced the evacuation of at least eight mountain villages, destroyed several homes, and has so far scorched 50 square kilometres of pine forest and orchards, according to Cyprus' Environment Ministry.
The blaze forced the Cypriot Government to request fire fighting aircraft from fellow European Union member countries and neighbouring Israel. Fire department officials said the entire department has been mobilised to fight the fire with off-duty staff being called back into service.
Cypriot Government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said that one of two Greek Canadair CL-415 aircraft that were dispatched to the island had to turn back because of a technical malfunction. He said two Israeli aircraft have been sent, while authorities are awaiting confirmation about the arrival of two Italian aircraft. Israel deployed a C-130 Hercules and two Air Tractor fire fighting aircraft. Britain, which has military bases on Cyprus, deployed two search and rescue helicopters.
Nouris said fire fighting aircraft and ground crews are focusing their efforts on two massive fire fronts between the villages of Odou and Vavatsinia. He said authorities are “cautiously optimistic" that they'll make progress in beating back the flames but strong wings expected later in the day could hamper efforts.
He said 36 people who had been evacuated from their homes have been taken to hotels in the capital, Nicosia, while food and water is being supplied to Melini village residents.
"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.
Police said that a court has ordered that a 67-year-old man remain in custody for eight days to assist in the investigation into the cause of the fire.
“Thick gnarled trunks of ancient olive trees, emblematic of the holiday island, were reduced to smouldering stumps.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the four labourers' 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 away. A policeman at the scene told media 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.
“We are experiencing the most destructive fire since the founding of the Cyprus republic in both material damage but also unfortunately in terms of human lives," Minister Nouris said.
The Cyprus Forestry Department said "the fire that broke out on Saturday... came under full control today" on Monday morning local time.
Sources: Euro News, The Associated Press, SBS News