Rhodes still ablaze as more fires rage in Greece

Dozens of wildfires torched Greece after days of extreme temperatures.

Dozens of wildfires torched Greece after days of extreme temperatures. Photo: AAP

Firefighters struggled through the night to contain 82 wildfires across Greece, 64 of which started on Sunday, the hottest day of the summer so far.

Their efforts were without the help of firefighting planes and helicopters, which do not operate at night.

The most serious fire was on the island of Rhodes. Some 19,000 people had been evacuated from several locations on the island as wildfires burned for a sixth day, Greek authorities said. 

The Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was “the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country”.

Local police said 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3000 by sea from 12 villages and several hotels. Six people were briefly treated at a hospital for respiratory problems. A person who fell and broke a leg during a hotel evacuation and a pregnant woman remained hospitalised, the latter in good condition, authorities said.

A number of tourists were waiting to fly back home from Rhodes International Airport.

The package holiday companies TUI and Jet2 canceled flights to Rhodes. But the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport later announced that 14 TUI and Jet2 flights carrying 2700 passengers would depart from Rhodes airport by 3am on Monday local time.

On Saturday and early Sunday, 70,000 passengers travelled through the airport, and some were arrivals, the ministry said. The announcement did not break down the figures by arrivals and departures.

British tourist Kevin Evans was evacuated twice on Saturday with his wife and three young children — first from Kiotari to Gennadi, then again as the fire approached the island’s capital in the northeast, he told Britain’s PA news agency.

“There were lots of people in Gennadi sent from the hotels — many in just swimsuits having been told to leave everything in the hotel,” he told PA. 

“As night fell, we could see the fire on the top of the hills in Kiotari. They said all the hotels were on fire.”

Rhodes travel agent Stelios Kotiadis confirmed to the Associated Press that the evacuation was hasty. 

“There was panic … the authorities were overwhelmed,” he said.

But, he said, the abandoned hotels “are in much better condition than reported in social media”.

“They will be ready to reopen very soon if Civil Protection gives the go-ahead,” he said.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that personnel had set up a help desk at Rhodes International Airport for visitors who have lost their travel documents.

There are substantial reinforcements from the European Union, with 450 firefighters and seven airplanes operating across the country.

“Greece is handling this difficult situation with professionalism, putting emphasis on safely evacuating thousands of tourists, and can always count on European solidarity,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Sunday evening.

The weather remained hot in the Mediterranean country on Sunday. A total of 180 locations experienced temperatures of 40°C and above. The highest reading, 46.4°C, was reached at the seaside town of Gytheio in southern Greece.

A relative respite from the heat Monday, with highs of 38°C forecast, will be followed by yet more high temperatures starting Tuesday. However, it should get significantly cooler on Thursday, with temperatures in the low- to mid-30s, the country’s Meteorological Service said on Sunday evening.


Topics: Greece
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