Four people have been found dead as a huge fire raged for a second day in Cyprus, razing tracts of forest in a blaze one official called the worst on record.
The blaze, fanned by strong winds, affected at least 10 communities over an area of 50 square km (19 square miles) and destroyed several homes in the foothills of the Troodos mountain range, an area of pine forest and densely vegetated shrubland.
The victims, thought to be Egyptian nationals and agricultural workers, were found dead close to Odou, a mountainous community north of the cities of Limassol and Larnaca.
“All indications point to it being the four persons who were missing since yesterday,” Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said on Sunday.
“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,” Nouris said.
Nouris said firefighting aircraft and ground crews are focusing their efforts on two massive fire fronts between the villages of Odou and Vavatsinia. He said authorities are “cautiously optimistic” that they’ll make progress in beating back the flames, but strong wings expected later in the day could hamper efforts.
He said 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.
Hundreds of firefighters and 11 firefighting planes have been fighting to stop the blaze, the state radio broadcaster RIK reported.
The European Union’s executive institution, the European Commission, said firefighting planes had departed from Greece to battle the fire. Italy and Israel are also reportedly deploying aerial firefighters to help Cyprus.
The EU’s emergency Copernicus satellite was also activated to provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas, the Commission said in a statement.
“It is the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus,” Forestries Department Director Charalambos Alexandrou told Cyprus’s Omega TV.
Attempts were being made to prevent the blaze from crossing the mountains and stop it before reaching Machairas, a pine forestland and one of the highest peaks in Cyprus.
The cause of the fire, which started about midday on Saturday, was unclear. Cyprus experiences high temperatures and drought in the summer months, with temperatures in recent days exceeding 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Police said they were questioning a 67-year-old person in connection with the blaze.