The fire rages overnight on large palm tree farms in Egypt’s southwestern province of New Valley. Image Credit: Extra News TV

Cairo: A massive fire hit Egypt’s border province of New Valley, injuring more than 30 people and destroying about 60 acres of palm plantations, local officials said on Saturday.

The fire — the biggest in the history of the New Valley in south-western Egypt — erupted Friday evening in the village of Al Rashida and raged on till Saturday morning, prompting the army to dispatch helicopters to help extinguish it before it could spread to houses. The exact cause of the fire was not clear yet.

Health authorities said they had set up a field hospital at a school in the village, after the fire gutted the local health care unit.

The province’s Governor, Major General Mohammad Al Zamlut, said that Defence Minister Mohammed Zaki ordered four helicopters to help extinguish the blaze.

“The fire was limited in the beginning, but it soon extended to large patches of farmland due to the strong wind,” Al Zamlut told the media, adding that the blaze destroyed about 60 acres of palm trees.

“The president’s office and the prime minister are following the situation,” the official noted.

Thirty fire trucks were also sent to the village from neighbouring provinces.

Firefighters, supported by the army helicopters, were able later on Saturday to put out the blaze after battling it for more than 16 hours, the governor said. “Cooling is now underway as barriers are being set up between the burnt farms and residential units,” he added.

Local witnesses said that the fire had started at about 4.30pm local time on Friday. “It was very powerful. Three hours after it started, the wind became so strong that it caused the fire to extend to some houses located near the palm trees, causing heavy losses,” Ali Al Mahdi, a resident of the village, told private television Extra News.

“In the past five years, we have seen fires, but this fire is the largest,” he added.

The New Valley, about 730 kilometres west of Cairo, is Egypt’s largest province bordering Libya and Sudan.