Courageous firefighters return from Greece inferno

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After a week of fighting wildfires that turned Greece into an inferno, the Cypriot fire-relief mission returned home on Friday, welcomed by state officials.

A C130 aircraft of the Greek Air Force arrived at Larnaca airport carrying 20 members of the Fire Service, two fire trucks and 20 members of the Civil Defence and their equipment.

The 40-member team – among the first international responders — contributed to tame huge wildfires raging across Greece since they left the island on August 4.

The majority of the fires have now been brought under control with the help of firefighters arriving from across Europe.

Justice Minister Stephie Dracou and Interior Minister Nicos Nouris were at the airport to welcome the team back and honour their contribution for putting their lives at risk, the worst fires in living memory.

The Fire Brigade and Civil Defence mission operated on several fronts to put out the fires which started earlier this month.

“Cyprus firefighters and volunteers should feel proud of their contribution putting out one of the worst fires in the country’s recent history,” said Dracou welcoming the team back home.

She welcomed firefighters back “with feelings of great pride, for the effort you have made, contributing to the fight of the Greek authorities to deal with the large fires, raging for ten days now.

“You bravely threw yourself into the battle against the fiery nightmare”.

Nouris expressed his appreciation: “You have literally highlighted the greatness of your soul and character, each and every one of you, you have honoured the organisations you serve, reaffirming that our small homeland is a huge source of volunteerism”.

He wished those firefighters slightly injured during operations a swift recovery and return to their duties.

In comments to the Cyprus News Agency, Dimitris Katsiflis, assistant director of the Fire Department, said that the fires in Greece were among the worst he faced in his career as a firefighter.

Katsiflis said the 40-strong mission “gained experiences but have borne witness to tragic and heartbreaking events. I hope we do not experience such situations again”.

“It was not only the scale of the fires that made things difficult but also the fact they spread from forest areas to threaten urban areas endangering human lives and properties”.

A written statement by Cyprus Civil Defence said all members of the Cypriot mission were called upon to respond under “unprecedented, adverse and dangerous conditions”.

“They worked in steep areas that were difficult to access and managed to contain flare-ups before they spread.

“Volunteering served again as a means of strengthening the state machine and forging social solidarity,” it added.

Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help with the wildfires.

In addition, two aircraft from Turkey and an additional plane from Russia were dispatched.

More than 500 fires have been burning across Greece, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people.

The biggest devastation was in Evia, Greece’s second-largest island and Attica, where fires reached the outskirts of the country’s capital Athens.

According to the European Forest Fire Information System, an estimated 93,600 hectares of forest and farmland were burnt.