Cyprus appeals for help as deadly wildfire rips through foreston July 4, 2021 at 9:23 am

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Four missing people are confirmed dead as a huge blaze forces the evacuation of several villages.

Cyprus has appealed for international help to tackle a huge wildfire described by officials as the worst in the country’s history.

The blaze, fanned by strong winds, is spreading through the southern Limassol district and has forced the evacuation of several villages.

On Sunday, four people were confirmed to have died in the fire.

The victims are believed to be Egyptian farm workers reported missing after their car was destroyed by the blaze.

“Forensic examiners are going to the scene for identification,” interior minister Nicos Nouris told reporters. “All the indications support the fact that these are the four missing persons we have been searching for since yesterday.”

President Nicos Anastasiades described the fire as “a tragedy”.

In a tweet on Sunday, he said it was “the largest fire since 1974” – referring to the year Cyprus was divided following a Turkish invasion – and had caused loss of life.

He pledged that the government would “provide immediate assistance to the victims” and their families.

Cyprus has been experiencing a week-long heatwave, with temperatures reaching up to 40C (104F). Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. However, linking any single event to global warming is complicated.

The wildfire was reported at about midday on Saturday in an area north-east of Limassol.

A helicopter flies over a forest fire, in the Larnaca mountain region, Cyprus, 3 July 2021

image copyrightEPA

“It passed through like a whirlwind, it destroyed everything,” said Vassos Vassiliou, a community leader in Arakapas, an area affected by the fire.

Firefighters are now racing to prevent the blaze from crossing a mountainous region and ripping through the Machairas Forest.

“It is the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus,” Director of the Department of Forests Charalambos Alexandrou told the country’s Omega TV. He said the perimeter of the fire stretched for “at least 40km (25 miles)”.

Earlier, President Anastasiades thanked Greece and Israel for pledging to send firefighting planes to the Mediterranean island. The aircraft were expected to arrive overnight. Italy has also sent planes to help.

The European Commission’s head of crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said a co-ordinated response was under way with “aerial firefighting capacity” being mobilised.

In a statement, the Commission said the EU’s emergency Copernicus satellite had been activated to track the blaze and to assess areas affected by the fire.

Several helicopters and planes are already tackling the flames, assisted by British troops and equipment stationed on the island, Reuters news agency reported.

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