Cyprus forest fires – Four dead as ‘most destructive’ infernos in island’s history burn down homes and scorch landscape

DEVASTATION has swept across Cyprus as the “most destructive” forest fires in the island’s history burned down houses and scorched the landscape.

At least four people have died in the raging infernos which covered 19 square miles in the foothills of the Trodos mountain range in the west of popular holiday island in the Mediterranean.

Firefighters desperately battled to beat back in the blaze as it swept Cyprus[/caption]
The inferno spanned some 21 square miles across the western part of the island[/caption]
Huge swathes of the landscape were scorched as the fire raged[/caption]
The inferno is feared to have been arson[/caption]

“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,” said interior minister Nicos Nouris.

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

Pictures show the horrifying wall of fire burning across the hills as brave fire crews desperately tried to bring the inferno under control.

They were successful in bringing the main fire under control on Sunday as dawn broke over the charred landscape.

However, it is feared strengthening winds could yet propel a resurgence and once again whip up the flames.

The bodies of four people, since identified as Egyptian nationals, were found were found outside the village of Odos.

Phileleftheros newspaper reported their charred remains were found about 400 metres from their burnt-out vehicle.

“It is a tragedy,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on Twitter.

He described it as “the largest fire since 1974” when the island was divided after Turkey occupied its northern third.

The cause of the fire remains unclear – but it comes as Cyprus recorded temperatures of up to 40C last week and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

Police said they are also questioning a 67-year-old person in connection with the blaze on suspicion of arson.

RAF helicopters were deployed the help with rescue operations[/caption]
Houses and buildings in the path of the fire were torched[/caption]
A burned house is seen amongst the devastation[/caption]
Burned trees are seen on Trodos mountain[/caption]
Entire landscapes were reduced to ash by the fire[/caption]
A burned out car sits amongst the rubble[/caption]
A man oversees the destruction as Cyprus comes to terms with the disaster[/caption]

British forces have also been deployed from military bases on Cyprus – including two search and rescue helicopters – to help fight the disaster.

Major General Rob Thomson said: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Republic of Cyprus as we work together to overcome this tragedy.”

President Anastasiades visited a crisis management centre in the village of Vavatsinia, located a few miles east of the blaze.

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

“The whole situation is under partial control. What worries us is the possible increase of the winds at noon.”

He added: “We will not leave anyone abandoned in the destruction of the fire.”

A group look at the orange skies as smoke rises over Cyprus[/caption]
Smoke billows over the town of in Ora[/caption]
Helicopters fly over the fire[/caption]

Some 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.

Around 70 fire engines, seven bulldozers and 10 water tankers have been mobilized – with many volunteers also rushing to help fire crews.

In areas where the fire had been tamed, charred tree trunks were visible on hillsides, while grey ash had replaced yellowed scrub as far as the eye could see in non-forested areas.

Thick gnarled trunks of ancient olive trees, long emblematic of the holiday island, were reduced to smouldering skeletons.

“It will take them at least 10 years to grow back. How are we to survive?” said farmer Andreas Costa, 70, who wept as Anastasiades tried to comfort him.

“It burnt everything,” Costa told state TV.

The EU’s executive, the European Commission, said firefighting planes had departed from Greece to battle the fire and Italy was also planning to deploy aerial firefighters.

Israel also pledged assistance and aircraft from British military bases in Cyprus also contributed – with RAF helicopters helping out with firefighting duties.

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