Five different countries joined the effort Tuesday to contain a forest fire raging for a third day on Cyprus, claiming the lives of two firemen and, so far, scorching an area of roughly 15 square kilometers – including large expanses of forestland – and forcing the evacuation of several villages.
Planes from France and Italy joined two British, four Greek and six Israeli aircraft providing support to about 350 Cypriot firefighters and volunteers to tackle the worst blaze to hit the island in almost a decade, amid a crippling heat wave, with temperature soaring above 40 Celsius (104 F).
The two fireman, 44-year-old Marios Aristotelous and 49-year-old Andreas Sophocleous, died after their truck fell off a 20-meter cliff on Monday in the Solea Valley, in the northern foothills of the Troodos mountain range that cuts across the southern part of the island.
Another firefighter was reportedly in critical condition after his truck overturned on Monday near the village of Evrychou.
The blaze began close to Evrychou on Sunday at noon and police suspect it was accidentally started by a 12-year-old boy.
The nearby villages of Aghioi Theodoroi, Kannavia and Kourdali were evacuated as a precautionary measure as the blaze came within 6 kilometers.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed solidarity with the “people and government of Cyprus” while Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, who bemoaned “irreparable damage,” canceled a scheduled meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, part of UN-backed talks to resolve the decades-long Cyprus dispute.