NICOSIA— A huge forest fire believed to be among the largest Cyprus has ever battled continued to rage out of control for a third day in the mountains southwest of the island’s capital of Nicosia and has claimed the life of a second firefighter, authorities said Tuesday.
The announcement of 44-year-old Marios Aristotelous’ death came a day after another colleague, Andreas Sophocleous, 49, lost his life in the line of duty. Both firefighters died from injuries sustained when their truck slid down a 20-meter gully Monday.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Archbishop Chrysostomos II, the head of Cyprus’ Orthodox Christian Church, said they were distraught at the news of the firefighters’ deaths and pledged to financially support their families.
A third firefighter remains in critical condition with head injuries suffered in a separate accident Sunday when his truck overturned.
Anastasiades said four more planes — two Canadairs and a flight-coordination aircraft from France and another Canadair from Italy — would join another 16 other aircraft from Greece, Israel, Cyprus and Britain, the most ever used in firefighting on the island.
“I’m hoping that until this evening, we’ll be able to contain what appeared…to be impossible,” Anastasiades told reporters after chairing a meeting of top officials to coordinate firefighting efforts.
“No one can flout the law to make such destructive actions,” Anastasiades added. Police said a 12-year-old boy is suspected of setting the fire with a lighter.
Cyprus had requested additional aircraft and some 80 tons of fire-suppressing material from its European Union partners.
“The EU stands by Cyprus to help in the response to this natural disaster,” said EU Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner Christos Stylianides, a Cypriot. “We have responded quickly and in full solidarity to the call for assistance.”
Almost 500 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers along with more than 60 vehicles are trying to contain one of Cyprus’ largest forest fires in difficult terrain amid a heat wave with temperatures surging to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The fire has scorched around 15 square kilometers (5.8 sq. miles) of trees and countryside.
MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press