Cyprus seeks aid from EU and Israel as huge forest fire rages

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NICOSIA, July 3 (Reuters) – Cyprus appealed for aid from its EU partners and Israel on Saturday as a huge forest fire raged north of the cities of Limassol and Larnaca, in what one official called the worst on record.

The blaze, fanned by strong winds, affected at least six communities in the foothills of the Troodos mountain range, an area of pine forest and densely vegetated shrubland.

“It is the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus,” Forestries Department Director Charalambos Alexandrou told Cyprus’s Omega TV. Stringent attempts were being made to avert it crossing the mountains and stopping the blaze before reaching Machairas, a pine forestland and one of the highest peaks in Cyprus visible for miles around.

Alexandrou said the perimeter of the fire was “at least 40 kilometres”.

Dozens of properties were damaged, but no injuries were reported. There were widespread power cuts in the area. Plumes of smoke were visible in the capital Nicosia, some 75 km (45 miles) away.

Greece pledged to assist with two aircraft, while assistance was also expected from Israel, officials said.

“This is a very difficult day for Cyprus. All of the state’s mechanisms are in gear, and the priority is for no loss of life,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades tweeted.

Israel accepted Nicosia’s plea for help, a statement from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, and will send firefighting aircraft to Cyprus on Sunday.

The cause of the fire, which started around midday, was unclear. Cyprus has experienced a heatwave this week, with temperatures exceeding 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Police said they were questioning a 67 year old person in connection with the blaze.

“It passed through like a whirlwind, it destroyed everything,” said Vassos Vassiliou, the community leader of Arakapas, one of the communities affected. (Reporting by Michele Kambas, additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem Editing by Ros Russell and David Gregorio)

Photo – A view of the huge fire on a mountain in Larnaca region, Cyprus, 03 July 2021. The European Commission has mobilized the rescEU system, which tackles natural disasters, to Cyprus after huge fires broke out in Limassol district and spread to Larnaca communities. EPA-EFE/KATIA CHRISTODOULOU