Aircraft from Britain and Greece join Cyprus firefight

Nicosia (AFP) - Aircraft from Britain and Greece have joined Cypriot firefighters in a battle to control some of the worst forest fires to have hit the island in years, officials said Monday.

A fireman died in hospital of injuries suffered when the truck he was driving plunged down a cliff at Solea, at the foothills of the Troodos mountains, police said.

Two others were injured in the accident, one of them seriously, during efforts now backed by the British and Greek aircraft to extinguish the blaze.

Israel had already sent aircraft to Cyprus when a fire broke out on Saturday at Argaka in the northwestern tourist region of Paphos, fanned by strong winds and scorchingly high temperatures.

Cypriot Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos told state television 16 aircraft were being used to douse the "unprecedented" fires, the first time so many have been deployed on the island.

They were supporting more than 300 firefighters and 56 vehicles at the Troodos foothills, where the blaze has already destroyed at least 15 square kilometres (six square miles).

The Argaka fire was brought under control on Saturday night, while police detained two people suspected lighting the fire deliberately.

The second blaze that started in the mountain village of Evrychou was still burning, with four aircraft from Greece and three from Israel carrying out flights until nightfall on Monday.

The Cypriot government had requested assistance from Israel and Greece, while British forces on the island are always on standby to help and are doing so with two helicopters.

On Monday, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters at the scene that "irreparable damage has been done" and described it as a "tragedy for rural communities".

Efforts to control the fires are being hampered by strong winds and tinder dry conditions compounded by a heatwave with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

As a precaution some homes have been evacuated, said police, who suspect a 12-year-old boy started the second fire on Sunday after playing with a lighter.

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