A huge forest blaze in Cyprus killed four people, destroyed homes and forced evacuations of villages, police said.

Villagers in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus looked on in shock today at their blackened hillsides after the deadly fire fanned by high temperatures and strong winds swept through the area.

Vaso Christosol, a woman in her 50s, recounted her hasty retreat yesterday with her daughter in their car as the flames closed in on her village of Odos, in the southern foothills of the Troodos range.

"My husband told me: 'Take our daughter and go'," she said.

Firefighters stumbled across the bodies of four Egyptian workers killed in the blaze just a few hundreds metres outside the village.

Their burnt-out vehicle had plunged down a ravine and the bodies were found some 600 metres away.

A policeman at the scene said they appeared to have fled the vehicle on foot but had run in the direction of the wind-fanned flames, in a doomed attempt to escape.

A car drives on a road in the village of Vavatsinia in the Larnaca district

The fire damaged or destroyed around 50 homes, many of them in Arakapas, the interior ministry said.

Heat and smoke from the blaze killed tens of thousands of chickens at a farm near the village of Ora.

President Nicos Anastasiades said more than 50 square kilometres (20 square miles) of forest and farmland had been destroyed.

After several hours of combating the blaze with the aid of helicopters and fire-fighting planes, civil defence workers warned that the smouldering hillsides could re-ignite in case of a return of high winds.

Italy and Greece sent planes to help, while Israel deployed a C-130 Hercules and two "Air Tractor" firefighting aircraft.

Britain, which has military bases on Cyprus, deployed two search and rescue helicopters.

A 67-year-old farmer was arrested and remanded in custody on suspicion of starting the blaze, a charge he denied.