Cyprus appeals for help as huge wildfire rips through forest


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.

Dozens of properties have been damaged but no casualties have been reported.

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 Cypriot authorities requested assistance from the European Union and Israel after the wildfire, which was reported at about midday on Saturday, intensified while burning in an area north of the cities of Limassol and Larnaca.

“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)”.

Meanwhile, President Nicos Anastasiades said it was a “very difficult day” for Cyprus and the “priority [was] for no loss of life”.

He thanked Greece and Israel for pledging to send firefighting planes to the Mediterranean island. The aircraft are 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.

[Read More…]