British HQ is hit as Cyprus burns

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BRITISH SOLDIERS based in Cyprus were digging trenches yesterday to stop the spread of a fierce fire that has already claimed the gracious colonial-era villa of the commander of British forces on the island.

About 300 members of British soldiers' families were evacuated earlier from their homes after fires reached the military garrison at Episkopi, burning down Air House, the villa of Major-General Angus Ramsay.

Four British soldiers were slightly injured in the blaze. Three suffered smoke inhalation and the fourth heatstroke. They were discharged after medical treatment.

The fire damaged three more houses at the base as well as storerooms and vehicles, the base spokesman Captain Jon Brown said. The Army estimates that the blaze will cost the base about pounds 2m in repairs.

The island has suffered from an intense heatwave which has so far claimed the lives of more than 50 Cypriots, most of them elderly.

Eight people died overnight on Monday alone, after temperatures hit 43C (110 Fahrenheit), the highest recorded in 40 years, the Cyprus Health Ministry said. Hospitals have been stretched to the limit with the admission of some 3,200 patients suffering from heat-related illnesses, the ministry said. The heatwave began last Friday.

The fire at Episkopi broke out in the tinder-dry scrubland that surrounds the military base. The garrison at Episkopi houses more than 4,000 British troops and their families and is like a small town with its own shops and recreational facilities.

The heatwave on the island has ruined the holidays of many Britons who, though delighted by the prospect of strong sun, have been unable to endure the scorching temperatures. Some travel agents have even started issuing warnings to potential holidaymakers.

Last night the heatwave was reported to have abated - somewhat - as temperatures fell to about 39C. The island's weather bureau said it expected temperatures to fall closer to the monthly average of 37C by tomorrow.

The fiercer than usual heat on Cyprus appears part of a global pattern. This week it was reported that the world experienced its hottest July since records began.