Cyprus — Cyprus was being ravaged by one of the worst forestfires in decades on Friday, razing holiday homes and forcing the evacuation ofhundreds of people from its scenic mountains.
The blaze, fanned by strong winds and a scorching heatwave, spread rapidly,sending thick plumes of smoke into the sky, visible from the capital Nicosia,about 55 km (30 miles) away.
Witnesses said mountains were burning on the pine-covered Troodos range, oneof the most scenic areas of the holiday island famed for its medieval chapels,several of them declared world heritage sites by the U.N. cultural organisationUNESCO.
“We want whoever can use a shovel up here,” local MP YiannakisThoma told the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation.
“This is a terrible situation. We are trying to get help from othercountries,” said Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou.
Air units from the British military bases and the U.N. contingents in Cypruswere helping to fight the fires. Planes were expected from Italy on Friday andfrom Israel on Saturday.
At least two villages were evacuated as firefighters battled the blaze.
Although forest fires in Cyprus are common, they are usually on a muchsmaller scale, and in recent years their incidence had dropped markedly.