NICOSIA (Reuters) – The European Union on Saturday deployed air assistance to help Cyprus contain a massive forest fire spreading north of the cities of Limassol and Larnaca, a fire that an official called the worst on record.
The fire, fueled by strong winds, affected at least six communities in the foothills of the Troodos mountain range, an area of heavily vegetated pine forest and scrub.
The EU executive, the European Commission, said the firefighting planes had departed from Greece to fight the fire and Italy was also planning to deploy aerial firefighters.
The EU’s Copernicus emergency satellite was also activated to provide damage assessment maps of affected areas, the Commission said in a statement.
“It is the worst forest fire in the history of Cyprus,” the director of the Forestry Department, Charalambos Alexandrou, told Omega TV of Cyprus.
Attempts were being made to prevent the fire from crossing the mountains and to stop it before reaching Machairas, a pine forest and one of the highest peaks in Cyprus.
Alexandrou said the perimeter of the fire was “at least 40 kilometers”.
Dozens of properties were damaged, but no injuries were reported. There were widespread power outages in the area. Plumes of smoke were visible in the capital, Nicosia, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) away.
Officials said that in addition to assistance from Greece with two planes, help from Israel was also expected.
“This is a very difficult day for Cyprus. All state mechanisms are in place and the priority is that no lives are lost,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades tweeted.
Israel accepted Nicosia’s request for help, said a statement from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and will send firefighting planes to Cyprus on Sunday.
The cause of the fire, which started around noon, was unclear. Cyprus has experienced a heat wave this week, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Police said they were questioning a 67-year-old person in connection with the fire.
“It happened like a whirlwind, it destroyed everything,” said Vassos Vassiliou, the community leader of Arakapas, one of the affected communities.
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