Greece, Britain and Israel sent planes and helicopters to Cyprus on Monday to fight a huge forest fire sweeping through the Troodos mountains on the island, fanned by high winds and scorching temperatures.
A pair of Greek Super Puma helicopters are on their way to join up with 14 Cypriot, Greek and Israeli aircraft to help battle the fire that continues to rage out of control and so has far scorched 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq. miles) of trees and countryside, officials said Monday.
The blaze, possibly triggered by an attempt to burn dry stubble, broke out on Sunday in the foothills of Troodos region of the eastern Mediterranean island.
The area of Soleas has been hardest hit by the blaze as it is covered by pine forest and fruit orchards. The fire thought to be one of the worst in recent years, also coincided with the first major heatwave of the year, creating tinder dry conditions.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades said the damage done to a large swath of forest in the mountainous regions southwest of the capital is “irreparable,” but nonetheless promised a speedy reforestation programme.
There are 66 firefighting vehicles and over 300 people from the island’s Fire Service, Forestry Department, as well as volunteers have been mobilised to fight the blaze that has covered the area with thick plumes of smoke.
“It’s truly a tragic situation. … We’re doing all we can to bring the fire under control,” said Anastasiades after chairing a meeting of senior Fire Service, Police and Interior Ministry officials.
Anastasiades said he has thanked Mustafa Akıncı, president of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, for offering help in firefighting efforts, but assistance from Greece, Israel and two British military bases on Cyprus are enough, at the moment.
Fire Service Chief Andreas Nicolou told state broadcaster RIK that optimism the fire can soon be brought under control is tempered by high temperatures and shifting winds that are making firefighting efforts difficult.
Deputy Fire Service Operations Chief Marcos Tragkolas, told The Associated Press at least three villages have been partly evacuated as a precautionary measure. He said one firefighter is in critical but stable condition after suffering head injuries when his vehicle overturned in a gully. Another firefighter sustained a broken arm.
Police said a 12-year-old boy is suspected of starting the fire with a lighter near the family’s holiday home.
Update: Cyprus Mail reports that:
According to CNA, Greek Cypriot forestry department chief Takis Tsintides said that by 6.30pm on Monday, the main efforts were focused on three fronts where the fire was still raging; near Spilia, Kannavou and Ayia Irini even though high temperatures and winds had dropped.
He said that firefighting aircraft would commence work at 5am on Tuesday, which could be the final push. Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides tweeted later that France was sending three aircraft and Italy one, which were due to arrive on Tuesday.
So far, it has been estimated that around 15 square kilometres of land and forest have been burned, so far. It is the biggest fire Cyprus has seen since Saittas in June 2007 when 10 square kilometres of land was destroyed and millions worth of damage was caused to properties in the region. It took two days to bring that fire under control.
Daily Sabah, Cyprus Mail