A firefighting helicopter drops water as teams fight forest fires on the Greek island of Rhodes July 22, 2023.
Agency Anadolu | Agency Anadolu | Getty Images
A forest fire that has raged on the Greek island of Rhodes for six days forced thousands of tourists and islanders to seek shelter in schools and indoor stadiums on Sunday after they were evacuated from seaside villages and resorts.
Coast Guard vessels and dozens of private boats evacuated more than 2,000 tourists from the beaches on Saturday after strong winds fanned the wildfire and flared up again along the southeastern part of the island, known for beaches and ancient ruins.
Many fled their hotels as huge flames reached the coastal villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos and Kalathos. Large groups gathered on the streets under a smoke-filled red sky, waiting to be escorted to safety.
“We currently have between 4,000 and 5,000 people in different buildings,” Rhodes Deputy Mayor Thanasis Virinis told Mega Television on Sunday, calling for donations of essentials such as mattresses and bedding.
A government official told Portal that 19,000 people had been evicted from their homes and hotels. The Department of Disaster Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Volunteers struggled to put out a fire that was blackening the hillside and charring buildings near Lindos, one of the island’s most visited sites and famous for its acropolis, perched on a massive rock within medieval walls.
Civil Protection on Sunday warned of a very high risk of wildfires in almost half of Greece, where temperatures are expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Heat waves across southern Europe and many parts of the world could continue into August.
Fires are common in Greece, but hotter, drier and windier summers have resulted in more fires in recent years. A consultant to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Saturday that climate change would lead to more heat waves.
On Rhodes, the evacuees, including residents from the villages, were housed in hotels, indoor stadiums, conference centers and school buildings, fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told Skai Radio.
“They received food, water and medical assistance,” he said, adding that the Greek Foreign Ministry will assist foreigners who want to leave the country at Rhodes Airport.
Firefighters, supported by planes dropping water, fought on three fronts on Sunday, constructing firebreaks to prevent the blaze from spreading to a dense forest or threatening more residential areas.
The fire has scorched large areas of forest and several buildings in a mountainous region since it broke out on Tuesday.