A deadly fire in the south-eastern foothill of Troodos that burnt through 10 villages across Limassol and Larnaca, claiming the lives of four Egyptian farmworkers, was brought under control Monday after a two-day battle.
Cyprus’ worst-ever fire broke out in the village of Arakapas in Limassol at around 1.50 pm on Saturday, destroying 55 sq. km of trees, crops, homes, and property.
The fire was three times worse than the Solea blaze in Troodos in the summer of 2016, when a total of 18 km burned, claiming the lives of two firefighters.
Fanned by strong winds reaching up to 7 Beaufort, the Arakapas wildfire spread out of control, with Cyprus calling for assistance from the EU and Israel.
Four Egyptian workers – aged between 24-35-were caught in the blaze in the village of Odos in Larnaca while trying to escape.
They found themselves surrounded by the fire, which raced through eight kilometres in around five hours.
Their bodies were found in a ravine on Sunday morning by fellow workers who had gone out looking for them.
President Nicos Anastasiades said it was the worst fire the Republic of Cyprus has experienced.
“We are really talking about a tragedy which is unprecedented, except for the period of the invasion in 1974.”
Forestry Department director Charalambos Alexandrou said he was relieved “the nightmare was over”.
Charalambous said, “this was the worst fire since the declaration of the Republic in 1960, excluding the fire caused by invading Turkey in 1974”.
In the fire’s aftermath, authorities have come under heavy criticism as residents reported a lack of coordination and delay in responding to the blaze.
Authorities said they had two other fires to deal with at the same time in Limassol and Nicosia.
Critics accuse the government of not taking action following the lethal fires in Solea, which raged for four days.
Following the Solea fire, the government decided to purchase two large firefighting planes like the ones dispatched by Greece at the weekend and a cutting-edge mobile coordination centre.
However, none of these decisions has been implemented.
Over 600 people from the emergency services, the army, and volunteers joined forces to tackle the fire over the weekend.
Over 70 fire engines and a dozen aircraft were involved in the operation, while drones of the National Guard were used to map the area and keep an eye on outbreaks.
Fire engines and helicopters will remain in the area on Monday to fight any blazes that reignite.
The fire damaged or destroyed around 50 homes, many of them in Arakapas.
Heat and smoke from the blaze killed tens of thousands of chickens at a farm near the village of Ora.
Italy and Greece sent planes to help, while Israel deployed a C-130 Hercules and two “Air Tractor” firefighting aircraft.
Britain Forces Cyprus deployed two search and rescue helicopters.
A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of starting the blaze, a charge he denied.
He was seen by an eyewitness leaving his field in the village of Arakapas in his car when the fire started, police said.