Search crews found the bodies of four people outside a fire-swept mountain village in Cyprus on Sunday in what a government minister called the “most destructive” blaze in the eastern Mediterranean island’s history.
Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said Civil Defence volunteers discovered the remains just outside the village of Odou on the southern edge of the Troodos mountain range.
Authorities believe the bodies belong to four Egyptian labourers who went missing on Saturday evening. Mr Nouris said he has informed the Egyptian ambassador to Cyprus and arrangements will be made to repatriate the remains.
“We are experiencing the most destructive fire since the founding of the Cyprus republic in both material damage, but also unfortunately in terms of human lives,” he said.
President Nicos Anastasiades called the fire “an unprecedented tragedy” except for the destruction wreaked by the 1974 war that split the island along ethnic lines after Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Mr Nouris said Greek and Israeli aircraft will join 11 other planes and helicopters in firefighting efforts later on Sunday.
The blaze, which began on Saturday afternoon, forced the evacuation of at least eight mountain villages, destroyed several homes, and has so far scorched more than 20 square miles (50 sq km) of pine forest and orchards, according to Cyprus’s Environment Ministry.
Despondent residents who saw their homes go up in flames vented their anger at what they called the authorities’ slow response to battling the blaze.
Mr Nouris said firefighting aircraft and ground crews are focusing their efforts on two massive fire fronts between the villages of Odou and Vavatsinia. He said authorities are “cautiously optimistic” that they will make progress in beating back the flames.
Mr Anastasiades, who is touring the fire-hit villages, said the blaze is “partially contained”, but the fear is that the flames could intensify again if strong winds reappear later in the day.
Mr Nouris said 36 people who had been evacuated from their homes have been taken to hotels in the capital, Nicosia, while food and water is being supplied to Melini village residents.
The blaze forced the Cypriot government to request firefighting aircraft from fellow European Union member countries and neighbouring Israel.
Fire department officials said the entire department has been mobilised to fight the blaze, with off-duty staff being called back into service.
Around 70 fire engines, seven bulldozers and 10 water tankers have been mobilised. Many volunteers also rushed to help fire crews.
A pair of helicopters from two military bases Britain maintains in Cyprus have been assisting since the fire’s outbreak.
Two Greek Canadair CL-415 aircraft arrived in Cyprus to help. One had to turn back because of a technical fault, but was replaced by another.
Two Israeli planes have also been dispatched, while authorities are awaiting confirmation about the arrival of two Italian aircraft.
Police said a 67-year-old man faces arson charges. A court ordered that he remains in custody for eight days to assist in the investigation into the cause of the fire.
Mr Anastasiades urged citizens to be on the lookout for “those who cause such destruction either carelessly or deliberately”.