In pictures: the worst forest fire in Cyprus in decades | Gallery News

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A massive forest fire in Cyprus has killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages as Greece, Israel and other countries deploy firefighting planes to the Mediterranean island.

The blaze began on Saturday and swept through districts in the southern foothills of the Troodos Mountains as the country grapples with a scorching heat wave.

“It’s a tragedy,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on Twitter, describing it as “the biggest fire since 1974”.

The blaze has claimed “lives” and destroyed property and forest land, Anastasiades said, adding that “the government will provide immediate assistance to the victims and the families of the victims.

“We will not leave anyone left behind in the destruction of the fire.”

Firefighters managed to bring the main blaze under control on Sunday morning, authorities said, while warning that strengthening winds could further propel a resurgence.

In areas where the fire had been brought under control, charred tree trunks were visible on the hillside, while gray ash had replaced the yellowed brushwood as far as the eye could see in unforested areas.

Thick gnarled trunks of hundred-year-old olive trees, long emblematic of the resort island, were reduced to smoking skeletons.

Firefighters were seen along the road to the village of Vavatsinia, near the town of Larnaca, and several helicopters flew over the blaze as thick gray smoke clouded the sky.

Janez Lenarcic, EU commissioner for crisis management, said on Saturday that its “aerial firefighting capability” had been mobilized, with Italy and Greece sending planes to rescue.

Britain, which has military bases in Cyprus, deployed two search and rescue helicopters and was helping refuel Cypriot planes.

“We stand with the Republic of Cyprus as we work together to overcome this tragedy,” said the Commander of British Forces in Cyprus, Major General Rob Thomson.

Cyprus has experienced prolonged heat waves and periods of drought in recent years.

Over the past few days, the temperature has reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) inland and there has been very little rain since mid-April.

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