Israel sends firefighting planes to help battle Cyprus blaze

Emergency assistance comes at Nicosia’s request after local crews unable to control blaze due to strong winds

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A forest fire rages near the Cypriot village of Argaka in the Paphos region on June 18, 2016. (screen capture: Twitter via James Archer)
A forest fire rages near the Cypriot village of Argaka in the Paphos region on June 18, 2016. (screen capture: Twitter via James Archer)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday evening ordered Israeli firefighting aircraft to assist Cyprus authorities struggling to put out a massive wildfire raging on the island’s coast.

“Efforts are currently underway to organize the dispatch of a rescue team as well as additional firefighting aircraft,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

According to a report in the Cyprus Mail, the emergency assistance from Israel came at the request of Nicosia, after local firefighters were unable to control the blaze that had burned five square kilometers of vegetation in the Paphos region by Saturday afternoon.

Fire department spokesman Leonidas Leonidou told the paper strong winds were hampering firefighting efforts, and the blaze would likely continue into Saturday night.

No injuries have been reported, and Leonidou said no area homes were in immediate danger.

Local reports said the fire was the biggest Cyprus has seen in recent years.

In April, Israel, Greece and Cyprus conducted the first-ever joint fire-fighting exercise in a bid to create a regional network of emergency cooperation between the countries that would be operational during emergency situations.

In 2010, Cyprus answered Netanyahu’s emergency call for assistance and sent its only firefighting aircraft to aid Israeli crews in putting out a massive brush fire in the Carmel Mountains.

“At the time of the Carmel fire, Cyprus was the first country to send a firefighting plane” to Israel, the PMO said.

After destroying millions of trees and hundreds of homes, the Carmel blaze was finally brought under control with the help of planes and personnel from more than 16 countries, including Cyprus, Greece, Britain, Turkey, Russia and France.

Forty-four people were killed in the fire.

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