Britain, Greece, Israel help fight forest fire in Cyprus

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Greece, Britain and Israel sent planes and helicopters to Cyprus on Monday to fight one of the largest forest fires to hit the island in years, and a firefighter was killed when a water carrier overturned, authorities said.

It was the first fatality among firefighters reported in years in Cyprus, which has frequent brush fires during its hot summer months but on a considerably smaller scale.

The blaze, possibly triggered by an attempt to burn dry stubble, broke out on Sunday in the foothills of the Troodos mountain region of the eastern Mediterranean island and has been fanned by high winds and scorching temperatures.

The Soleas area hardest hit by the blaze is covered by pine forest and fruit orchards. The blaze coincided with the first major heatwave of the year, creating tinderbox conditions.

“The situation is really tragic,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters from the area. “The damage is irreparable.”

The blaze was mostly brought under control late on Monday, although three fronts were still burning. Water bombers from Greece and Israel and helicopters from the British military bases in Cyprus were assisting in the firefighting effort. Anastasiades said additional air assistance had been requested from Greece.

Mustafa Akinci, head of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus, also offered assistance. Anastasiades said he had thanked Akinci but that authorities had enough assets at their disposal.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines following a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup.

Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Janet Lawrence