Large wildfire on Cyprus forces evacuation of 6 mountain villages

Large wildfire on Cyprus forces evacuation of 6 mountain villages

18 June 2008

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NICOSIA, Cyprus: A large forest fire in Cyprus’ central Troodos region was brought under control Wednesday, after forcing the evacuation of six villages, authorities said.

Interior Minister Neoklis Sylikiotis made the announcement on state RIK television but said crews would remain on alert overnight to guard against the blaze rekindling.

Ten firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and minor burns. Eight were released and two remained in hospital for observation, Kemitzi said. No other injuries were reported. The blaze broke out before dawn, and its cause was under investigation.

Earlier, the villages of Vasa, Kellaki and Sanida were evacuated as a precaution because authorities feared strong, shifting winds could push the flames in their direction, Fire Department spokeswoman Liza Kemitzi said.

The nearby villages of Klonari, Akapnou and Vikla were evacuated shortly afterward.

All six mountain villages are about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the capital, Nicosia.

Police went door to door in the villages, warning residents to leave their homes as flames approached.

The fire damaged three homes in the nearby village of Ora, where residents said they were awakened before dawn by church bells warning them of approaching flames. Kemitzi said several more homes may have been damaged in other villages.

About 320 firefighters, 95 vehicles and seven water-dropping aircraft worked to extinguish the blaze, which r destroyed an estimated 10 square kilometers (3.5 square miles) of forest.

Kemitzi said two firefighting aircraft helped crews on the ground contain some of the fire fronts.

Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias has a holiday home in Kellaki, where he played host last week to Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyiannis. He was not there Wednesday.

Cyprus is facing one of its worst droughts in years, with dam reserves nearly empty.

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