Search crews found the bodies of four people outside a fire-swept mountain village in Cyprus on Sunday in what a government minister called the “most destructive” blaze in the eastern Mediterranean island’s history.
Interior minister Nicos Nouris said Civil Defence volunteers discovered the remains just outside the village of Odou on the southern edge of the Troodos mountain range.
Authorities believe the bodies belong to four Egyptian labourers who went missing on Saturday evening. Mr Nouris said he had informed the Egyptian ambassador to Cyprus and arrangements would be made to repatriate the remains.
“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,” he said.
Heavy smoke covers the sky above the village of Ora in the southern slopes of the Troodos mountains, as a giant fire rages in Cyprus. Photograph: Andrea Anastasiou/AFP via Getty Images
President Nicos Anastasiades called the fire “an unprecedented tragedy” except for the destruction wreaked by the 1974 war that split the island along ethnic lines after Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Mr Nouris said Greek and Israeli aircraft would join 11 other planes and helicopters in firefighting efforts later on Sunday.
The blaze, which began on Saturday afternoon, forced the evacuation of at least eight mountain villages, destroyed several homes, and has so far scorched more than 50 sq km of pine forest and orchards, according to Cyprus’s environment ministry.
Despondent residents who saw their homes go up in flames vented their anger at what they called the authorities’ slow response to battling the blaze.
A Canadair plane flies over the forest fire in the Larnaca mountain region, Cyprus. Photograph: Katia Christodoulou/EPA
Mr Nouris said firefighting aircraft and ground crews were focusing their efforts on two massive fire fronts between the villages of Odou and Vavatsinia. He said authorities were “cautiously optimistic” that they would make progress in beating back the flames.
Mr Anastasiades, who is touring the fire-hit villages, said the blaze was “partially contained”, but the fear was that the flames could intensify again if strong winds reappeared later in the day.
Mr Nouris said 36 people who had been evacuated from their homes had been taken to hotels in the capital, Nicosia, while food and water was being supplied to Melini village residents.
Fire department officials said the entire department had been mobilised to fight the blaze, with off-duty staff being called back into service.
About 70 fire engines, seven bulldozers and 10 water tankers have been mobilised. Many volunteers also rushed to help fire crews.
A pair of helicopters from two military bases Britain maintains in Cyprus have been assisting since the fire’s outbreak.
Two Greek Canadair CL-415 aircraft arrived in Cyprus to help. One had to turn back because of a technical fault, but was replaced by another.
Two Israeli planes have also been dispatched, while authorities are awaiting confirmation about the arrival of two Italian aircraft.
Police said a 67-year-old man faces arson charges. A court ordered that he remains in custody for eight days to assist in the investigation into the cause of the fire.
Mr Anastasiades urged citizens to be on the lookout for “those who cause such destruction either carelessly or deliberately”. – AP