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Five nations deploy aircraft to battle deadly Cyprus fires

AFP , Tuesday 21 Jun 2016
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Five foreign governments deployed aircraft to Cyprus on Tuesday to help battle the island's worst forest fires in years, which have claimed the lives of two firefighters and blighted swathes of countryside.

France and Italy were the latest countries to send planes to assist more than 300 firefighters attempting to put out the blazes which have ran amok as the island swelters under temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Two British, four Greek and six Israeli aircraft were already helping to tackle the second massive wild fire to hit the Mediterranean holiday island in less than a week.

The European Union said member-state Cyprus had requested several firefighting planes and 80 tonnes of retardant material to battle the blaze that broke out Sunday in the Evrychou area.

"We have responded quickly and in full solidarity to the call for assistance," EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, said in a statement.

"I commend the tremendous efforts of the first responders and would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of the firefighters who gave their lives to save their country," he added.

Two firefighters died in hospital on Monday from injuries suffered when the truck they were in plunged 40 metres (130 feet) down a cliff in the Solea valley, in the northern foothills of the Troodos mountains, police said.

Another man was injured in the accident near Evrychou, where the fire has destroyed at least 15 square kilometres (six square miles) of scenic countryside and forced the evacuation of parts of the village.

The blaze began on Sunday just a day after firefighters managed to extinguish another huge fire at Argaka on the island's northwest coast.

Police said they had arrested two people suspected of starting the earlier fire.

They said a 12-year-old boy was suspected of starting the Evrychou blaze while playing with a lighter.

President Nicos Anastasiades cancelled a scheduled meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Tuesday so that he could visit firefighters at the scene.

The two men meet twice a week as part of UN-backed efforts to end the island's four-decade-old division.

Anastasiades already visited Evrychou on Monday, when he spoke of the "irreparable damage" done by the two fires which were a "tragedy for rural communities".

Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said a total of 15 aircraft were involved in the firefighting effort on Tuesday.

Three French aircraft were expected to arrive later in the day, the embassy said.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said an Italian aircraft would also join them.

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