NICOSIA (Reuters) -Four people were found dead on Sunday as a huge fire raged for a second day in Cyprus, razing tracts of forest and gutting dozens of homes in a blaze one official called the worst on record.
The blaze, fanned by strong winds, affected at least 10 communities over an area exceeding 50 square kilometres (19 square miles) in the foothills of the Troodos mountain range, an area of pine forest and densely vegetated shrubland.
“Its one of the most destructive (fires) we have experienced, unfortunately, with victims,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters from the area. The state would stand by and support all those affected, he said.
The area includes some of Cyprus’s most picturesque mountain villages. Witnesses said slopes of lush pine or fruit tree orchards had been turned to smouldering black stumps on a barren grey landscape.
“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 victims were found dead close to Odou, a mountainous community north of the cities of Limassol and Larnaca. In a statement, Egypt’s foreign ministry said it had been informed by Cyprus authorities that the victims were Egyptians.
Witnesses said the victims were found a short distance from a vehicle which appeared to have crashed.
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.
The EU’s emergency Copernicus satellite was activated to provide damage assessment maps of the affected areas, the Commission said in a statement.
The cause of the fire, which started around midday on Saturday, was unclear. Cyprus experiences high temperatures 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.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Additional reporting by Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and by John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Alex Richardson)