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July 5, 2021 5:06 pm

Israeli Firefighting Squadron Helps Control Deadly Cyprus Blaze in ‘National Mission’ From the Air

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Smoke from a forest fire is seen in Ora village, Larnaca, Cyprus, July 3, 2021, in a picture obtained from social media. Photo: Andrea Anastasiou via Reuters

One of the most destructive fires ever seen in Cyprus was brought under control on Monday, thanks in part to Israeli firefighters who made it a “national mission” to help assist the nearby island nation.

The joint aid delegation of the Israeli Air Force and Israeli fire squadron Elad departed on Sunday in order to help Cyprus deal with the fatal forest fire, which has killed four, destroyed a number of homes and forced ten villages to evacuate.

“This is a national mission that is shared by the fire brigade and the police. The day we arrived, we were already out flying, eating and going up in the air,” Guy Weisbard — chief pilot of the Elad squadron, which is operated by Elbit Systems for the Israel Police and the Fire Department — told Israeli news site Mako on Monday.

Cyprus’ Forestry Department said that the blaze was contained early Monday, according to the Associated Press, after scorching more than 21 square miles of land.

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“The response we provide here in the Troodos mountains, where the fire is located, brings you to the edge of the envelope,” according to Weisbard, who spoke from the fire centers as another mission took off. “The peaks are 5,000-6,000 feet high. In these places the air is thinner and the winds are strong, which affects the plane. The required professionalism is very high, because you must not cross your own limits and that of the plane.”

The Israeli aid delegation has included the IAF’s Karnaf (C-130 Hercules) aircraft, as well as two Air Tractor firefighting aircraft belonging to country’s Elad fire squadron. The IAF aircraft also carried 20 square meters of flame retardants and technical equipment which is used by Israeli Police’s firefighting squadron.

“We train our men for this kind of mission. Half of the squadron is eligible to fly abroad. Part of that investment into training helps them get to know the current area a little better,” Weisbard said. “Last April we were in Cyprus on a training mission, supported by Elbit, at exactly the relevant point and that helps us a lot. The fact that we trained here, we’ve been in touch with the people and we’ve landed here, is really helping us now.”

The Israeli delegation is led by Maj. O, who until recently served as the Deputy Head of the Elad squadron. He is joined by four firefighter pilots and an air assistance officer.

“Besides the pilots, the delegation is made up of very important people on the ground, including people from Elbit who support us working here, and the mechanics on the ground. Everyone here has one interest and that is to do this in the best, safest and most effective manner,” Weisbard said. “It is a dangerous flight, but on behalf of all of us here, I say, we are envoys.”

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