ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Some 19,000 people have been evacuated from the Greek island of Rhodes. while the forest fires burned for the sixth day on three fronts, Greek authorities said on Sunday.
The Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was «the largest evacuation due to a forest fire in the country.»
Local police said 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3,000 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 their leg during a hotel evacuation and a pregnant woman remained hospitalized, the latter in good condition, authorities said.
The holiday package companies TUI and Jet2 canceled flights to Rhodes. Jet2 said it was canceling five scheduled passenger flights to the island on Sunday but would fly the planes to Rhodes empty to win back customers. TUI said it would cancel all its flights to the island until at least Tuesday.
British tourist Kevin Evans was evacuated twice on Saturday with his wife and three young children, first from Kiotari to Gennadi, then as the fire neared the island’s capital in the northeast, he told Britain’s PA news agency.
“There were a lot of people in Gennadi sent from the hotels, many in bathing suits who had been told to leave everything at the hotel,” he told PA. “As night fell, we could see the fire on 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 rushed. “There was panic. … The authorities were overwhelmed,” he said.
But, he said, the abandoned hotels “are in much better condition than what is being reported on social media. … They will be ready to reopen very soon if Civil Protection gives the go-ahead”.
Kotiadis said he and other travel agents sent buses to the southeast of the island to pick up evacuated tourists. They had to go around the long way, as the road that ran along the eastern side of Rhodes was blocked in places.
“There were between 80 and 90 people crammed into 50-seater buses,” he said. He added that 90% of the evacuated tourists are from European countries.
The British ambassador to Greece, Matthew Lodge, said the UK government was sending a rapid deployment team to support British citizens in Rhodes.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said staff were heading to Rhodes to set up a help desk at Rhodes International Airport for visitors who have lost their travel documents.
Fire Brigade spokesman Yannis Artopios said that as of Sunday afternoon, 266 firefighters and 49 trucks were operating on the ground, along with hundreds of volunteers. Ten firefighting aircraft, including two from France, two from Turkey and one from Croatia, as well as eight helicopters, are operating in the area.
There are substantial reinforcements of the European Union.
“More than 450 firefighters and seven EU planes have been operating in Greece as fires break out across the country,” EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic tweeted on Sunday afternoon.
In the mountainous part of Rhodes, an active front for the wildfire, firefighters have been trying to prevent the flames from spreading into the nearby dense forests.
Southwest of the tourist center of Kiotari, the main focus of the evacuations on Saturday, a trench was being dug to prevent the fire from crossing a stream and threatening the village of Gennadi.
The weather remained warm in the Mediterranean country on Sunday. Before noon, temperatures had already reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). Winds were low but notoriously variable on Rhodes, as on other Greek islands.
Some of the evacuees, including tourists, are being accommodated in other hotels, gyms and a conference center. A shipping company has offered one of their ships as accommodation. Kotiadis, the travel agent, told The Associated Press that three boats were being used.
Fires broke out in other parts of the country on Sunday. The most serious was on Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, where authorities ordered residents of four southern towns to evacuate to the town of Karystos, west of where the fire was advancing.
The deputy governor of central Greece, Giorgos Kelaiditis, who was near one of the villages, told the state agency ANA-MPA that the situation is difficult:
“The fire may be 2 kilometers (1 1/4 miles) away, but the wind is strong, the growth is low, the smoke is thick and the air is hard to breathe,” he said.
Northern Evia was devastated by wildfires in August 2021.
Authorities designated an unprecedented large part of the Greek mainland, the entire eastern part of central and southern Greece, plus Rhodes and Evia, as the highest level of risk for fire outbreaks as of Sunday. An additional part of Greece was designated as having very high fire risk.
Temperatures reached 43 C (110 F) in the capital Athens on Sunday afternoon and 45 C (113 F) in the inland plains of central Greece. A relative respite from Monday’s heat, with highs of 100 F (38 C) forecast, will be followed by another heat wave from Tuesday through at least Friday, forecasters warned.