Cyprus search crews discovered four charred bodies outside a fire-swept mountain village on Sunday in what the interior minister called the most destructive blaze in the eastern Mediterranean island nation’s history. Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Civil Defense volunteers discovered the remains just outside the village of Odou on the southern edge of the Troodos mountain range.
The blaze, which began Saturday afternoon outside the village of Arakapas, spread quickly amid strong winds and forced the evacuation of at least eight mountain villages, destroying homes and scorching 55 square kilometers (21 square miles) of pine forest and orchards. Authorities believe the bodies belong to four Egyptian laborers aged 22 to 29 who had gone missing Saturday evening. Nouris said he has spoken to the Egyptian ambassador to Cyprus and that arrangements will be made to repatriate the remains. Odou community chief Menelaos Philippou told state-run Cyprus News agency the four men who worked at a greenhouse that grew tomatoes tried to flee the fire along a mountain road, but their small truck veered off the road and crashed down an embankment. They then try to flee on foot but didn’t make it.
President Nicos Anastasiades called the fire an unprecedented tragedy” except for the destruction wreaked by a 1974 war that split the island along ethnic lines after Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece. Nouris said Greek and Israeli aircraft will join 11 other planes and helicopters in firefighting efforts later Sunday.