Cyprus hit by disastrous forest fire

Updated: 2007-06-30 04:28
Large Medium Small
A disastrous forest fire broke out on Friday afternoon in central Cyprus forced the eastern Mediterranean island to appeal for foreign help.

One fire fighting aircraft from Italy is arriving Friday night. A second Italian aircraft and one from Israel are expected to arrive Saturday morning, the semi-official Cyprus news Agency reported.

The fire, which is described as the one of the worst in decades, broke out at around 1300 local time (1000 GMT). It has destroyed holiday homes and forced the evacuation of at least five villages located on the pine-covered Troodos range.

A high column of smoke could be seen in the afternoon from the capital city of Nicosia, some 60 km northeastern of the mountainous area.

Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos went to the Crisis Management Center set up in the affected areas. He was joined by parliament speaker and other high-ranking officials to supervise the efforts to contain the blaze.

EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mariann Fischer Boel, who is currently in Cyprus for an official visit, also visited the scene and expressed the Commission's solidarity with the local affected people.

"I was very impressed with the courage and resourcefulness of all those involved in fighting the fires, which were truly ferocious," the EU Commissioner was quoted as saying in a news release.

She assured that "the commission stands ready to assist should Cyprus asked for our help."

According to the island's Forest Department, the fire was caused by high tension cables.

Fanned by strong winds and a week-long heatwave, the fire is threatening villages, restaurants, churches, holiday homes and summer camps. But no casualties were reported so far.

"The fire is uncontrollable and causes fear," a spokesman of the Cyprus Fire Service told reporters, describing the fire as the worst that has ever broken out on the island.