Cyprus asks EU, Israel for help fighting huge forest fire

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus asked fellow European Union nations on Saturday to help battle a huge forest fire in a mountainous region of the east Mediterranean island nation that has forced the evacuation of at least three villages.

Cypriot Environment Minister Costas Kadis told state broadcaster that the fire has claimed “huge tracts of forest” and private property near the village of Arakapas in the Troodos mountain range. At least four homes have burned and photographs on s ocial media show massive plumes of brown smoke blotting out the sun.

Cyprus government spokesman Marios Pelekanos told The Associated Press the fire’s dimensions are “concerning.” He said Greece is sending two firefighting planes and Israel has also dispatched aircraft.

Greek official Nicholas Hardalias posted on his Twitter account that Greece “stands by Cyprus” and that two Canadair CL-415 are on their way.

Four Cypriot firefighting planes are assisting ground crews in fighting the blaze but strong winds and temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius ( 86 F) are hampering their efforts. Fire Service spokesman Andreas Kettis said off-duty firefighters were being called back into service to help.