‘Pure hell’: Four dead in nation's worst fire in almost 50 years

·3-min read

A huge forest blaze in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire broke out on Saturday afternoon (local time) and swept through the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as the country grapples with a blistering heatwave.

"Everything was a nightmare and pure hell here, the village was surrounded by fire," Akis Giorgiou, 45, from the hamlet of Arakapas, said. 

He spent a terrifying night fearing his home would be destroyed before he was relieved to find it had been spared by the flames on Sunday. 

Trees burn in a forest on the slopes of the Troodos mountain chain in Cyprus.
Four people have died in the devastating fires in Cyprus. Source: Getty

At least 25 buildings were damaged or destroyed, nine of them in Arakapas, said a local police official.

"It is a tragedy," President Nicos Anastasiades said about the blaze on Twitter, describing it as "the largest fire since 1974", the year when the island was divided after Turkey occupied its northern third.

The blaze had caused loss of life and destroyed property and forest lands, Anastasiades said, adding that "the government will provide immediate assistance" to the victims and their families.

Charred bodies found in ravine

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said the four Egyptians' charred bodies were found outside the village of Odos in Larnaca district.

Their burnt-out vehicle was found at the bottom of a ravine and the four bodies some 600 metres away. 

Heavy smoke covers the sky above the village of Ora in the southern slopes of the Troodos mountains in Cyprus..
Residents feared their homes would be destroyed in the blaze in Cyprus. Source: Getty

A policeman at the scene told AFP that they appeared to have fled the vehicle on foot but run in the direction of the wind-fanned flames, in a doomed attempt to escape.

The Egyptian government said the four dead were agricultural workers from the North African country.

In areas where the fire had been tamed, charred tree trunks were visible on hillsides, while grey ash had replaced yellowed scrub as far as the eye could see in non-forested areas.

Farmer arrested over blaze

A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of starting the blaze. 

He was seen by an eyewitness leaving the village of Arakapas in his car at the same time the fire started there on Saturday, police said.

He could face charges of recklessly causing the deaths of the four Egyptians, police added.

Firefighters brought the main fire under control on Sunday, authorities said, while warning that strengthening winds could yet propel a resurgence.

A burned house in Eptagonia village, in Limassol mountain region. Cyprus, Monday, July 5, 2021. The wildfires that have been raging since 03 July afternoon in Limassol district and spreading to Larnaca communities, are the most catastrophic since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, according to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, and forced the evacuation of people from endangered villages.  (Photo by Danil Shamkin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
There are fears of a resurgence of the Cyprus fire. Source: Getty

"The high temperatures and the wind are our biggest dangers," Anastasiades said.

"The whole situation is under partial control. What worries us is the possible increase of the winds."

Cyprus has experienced extended heatwaves and periods of drought in recent years.

In the past few days, the temperature has topped 40 degrees inland and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

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