Thousands flee wildfire in shelter on Greek island of Rhodes

A wildfire that has raged on the Greek island of Rhodes for six days has forced thousands of tourists and island residents to shelter in schools and indoor stadiums after they were evacuated from coastal villages and resorts.

Coastguard vessels and dozens of private boats carried more than 2000 tourists from beaches on Saturday after the wildfire was fanned by strong winds and rekindled along the southeastern part of the island popular for beaches and ancient ruins.

Many fled their hotels when huge flames reached the seaside villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos and Kalathos.

Large groups gathered in the streets under a smoke-filled red sky waiting to be taken to safety.

“We have between 4000 and 5000 people now accommodated at different structures,” Thanasis Virinis, a vice mayor of Rhodes told Mega television on Sunday.

He called for donations of essentials such as mattresses and bedclothes.

One government official told Reuters 19,000 people had been moved from their homes and hotels.

The civil protection ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Volunteers fought to extinguish a blaze that blackened the hillside and charred buildings near Lindos, one of the island’s most-visited sites and famed for an acropolis perched on a massive rock within medieval walls.

Civil protection has warned of a very high risk of wildfires on Sunday in almost half of Greece, where temperatures were expected to hit 45 degrees Celsius.

Heatwaves across Southern Europe and many parts of the world could last until August.

Fires are common in Greece but hotter, drier, windy summers have brought more of them in recent years.

Climate change means heatwaves will become more frequent, an advisor to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Saturday.

On Rhodes, the evacuees, including residents from the villages, were housed at hotels, indoor stadiums, conference centres and school buildings, fire brigade spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told Skai radio.

“They have been given food, water and medical help,” he said.

The Greek foreign ministry would assist foreigners who wanted to leave the country at Rhodes airport, he said.

Firefighters backed by aircraft that dropped water battled three fronts on Sunday, setting up firebreaks to prevent flames from spreading to a dense forest or threatening more residential areas.

The fire has scorched swathes of forest and several buildings since breaking out in a mountainous area on Tuesday.

Firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires across the country.

An area west of Athens was among the worst-hit areas, along with Laconia in the southern Peloponnese.


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