‘Pure hell’: Villagers in shock as deadly bushfires rage across Cyprus and Kefalonia

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Authorities in Cyprus have said a deadly forest fire, that was the worst to hit the island in decades, was close to being brought under control after water bombing by Greek and Israeli aircraft.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire broke out on Saturday afternoon and swept through the southern foothills of the Troodos mountain range as the country grappled with a blistering heatwave.

The blaze killed four Egyptian labourers, destroyed 50 homes, damaged farms and power lines, and forced the evacuation of 10 villages. So far, 55 square kilometres of pine forest and orchards have been scorched.

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

Trees burn in a forest in the southern foothills of the Troodos mountains as Cyprus grapples with a blistering heatwave. Picture: AFP.

By late Sunday afternoon, the government reported a “reduction of [fire] outbreaks” thanks to “effective water drops by Greek and Israeli aircraft.”

“The fire and forestry services inspected the affected communities and now consider them safe,” said government spokeswoman, Niovi Parisinou.

“The effort continues as complacency is not allowed until the final extinguishing of all fires.”

Teams would be deployed immediately to start evaluating and registering damaged homes and property for compensation, she added.

Heavy smoke covers the sky above the village of Ora in the southern slopes of the Troodos mountains, as a giant fire rages on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Picture: AFP.

Cypriot police arrest farmer:

After the outbreak of the fire, Greek Interior Minister, Nicos Nouris, said it was the largest seen on the island since 1974.

“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,” Mr Nouris said.

In areas where the fire had been tamed, grey ash replaced yellowed scrub as far as the eye could see in non-forested areas.

A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of causing the blaze, which he denied. Police said a witness had seen him leaving the village of Arakapas in his car at the same time the fire started there, and he could face charges of recklessly causing the four deaths.

This house and a vehicle in the Larnaca region were gutted by the blaze. Picture: EPA.

Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, who toured the fire-hit villages, pledged immediate government help to farmers and home owners who lost crops and property.

He also said the government would assist the families of those who perished in the fire. Arakapas village residents where Mr Anastasiades was speaking told the president that they would hold him to account on his pledges. 

This comes after many villages who watched their homes go up in flames vented their anger at what they called authorities’ slow response to battling the fire.

Villages evacuated on Kefalonia:

The big wildfire on the island of Kefalonia continued to rage on Sunday morning, burning down thousands of acres of land.

Several villages have had to be evacuated, among them Kaparandriti, Agia Rini, Markopoulo, Kremmidi, Pastra and Kolaiti.

Forest fire on Kefalonia island. Photo: Keep Talking Greek.

According to the regional governor, the fire broke out in the Eleios-Pronnon area on Saturday afternoon, when a farmer set dry greens on fire.

Over 116 firefighters with 32 vehicles are currently operating in the area, also 6 groups on foot with water tankers and aerial means – four aircraft and two helicopters. Reinforcements from the mainland were also sent to the island.

The Head of the Fire Brigades operating on the island told ERT TV that nobody has been injured or harmed.

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