Multinational force fights stubborn wildfire in Cyprus; Israel could send planes too

Lebanon, Greece and Jordan have already sent several aircraft to battle blaze, which rekindled after firefighters had mostly managed to contain it

An aircraft drops water over a fire in Apesia, a semi-mountainous village near Limassol, southwestern Cyprus, August 7, 2023. (Philippos Christou/AP)
An aircraft drops water over a fire in Apesia, a semi-mountainous village near Limassol, southwestern Cyprus, August 7, 2023. (Philippos Christou/AP)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A multinational force is helping Cyprus fight stubborn wildfires in the summer heat, with Lebanon joining Greece and Jordan in sending aircraft to fight a blaze that has scorched miles of mountainous terrain, officials said Monday.

Cyprus Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis told The Associated Press that neighboring Lebanon is expected to send a pair of choppers as the wildfire continues to reignite on several fronts.

Two Greek Canadair aircraft have been dispatched to help douse the fire in the mountains about 11 miles (17 kilometers) north of the coastal town of Limassol. Jordan has sent three aircraft of its own, including two Super Puma helicopters and a Russian-made Mi26 helicopter. The multinational effort is battling a blaze that according to Agriculture and Environment Minister Petros Xenophontos scorched around 3.2 square miles (8.5 square kilometers) of land.

Environment Ministry Secretary Andreas Gregoriou, who is coordinating firefighting efforts, told state-run Cyprus News Agency that talks are ongoing with Israel for additional air support if needed.

Greece’s Civil Protection Ministry said 20 tons of fire retardant is also on its way to Cyprus.

Xenophontos said the fire had been largely contained overnight but had rekindled along several areas early Monday, forcing air and ground crews to again mobilize. Because of strong winds, fire crews would remain at the scene for as long as needed to counter any flare-ups.

“Fires are here, climate change exists and unfortunately it won’t go away,” Xenophontos told reporters at a fire coordinating hub near the fire.

Two helicopters operate over a fire in Apesia, a semi-mountainous village near Limassol, southwestern Cyprus, August 7, 2023. (Philippos Christou/AP)

Fire Department spokesman Andreas Kettis had earlier posted on the platform known as X, formerly Twitter that ground crews were working to hem in the blaze by building firebreaks.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou tweeted on X that he has given instructions for an initial estimate of the damage to private and state-owned property.

Officials said the residents of three villages have returned to their homes after being instructed to evacuate as a precaution.

Gregoriou, who surveyed the area by helicopter along with the country’s fire chief, told state broadcaster CyBC that “hundreds” of firefighters, including volunteers, managed to contain the fire overnight because winds had died down considerably.

The fire started Friday, but authorities said a day later it had been contained.

Xenophontos the fact that the fire reignited “is something that concerns us” and would be looked at by officials over the next few days. He dampened suggestions that it may have been the work of arsonists, saying that strong winds were lashing the spot where the fire is believed to have reignited.

Some firefighters who have been on the front lines have been relieved to rest up for any possible fires elsewhere on the island, the minister said.

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