Mass evacuation as wildfire engulfs Greece's Rhodes island

A man carries a child as they leave an area where a forest fire burns in Rhodes, Greece, on July 22, 2023. (Photo/AP)

Tens of thousands of people fled wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes as terrified tourists scrambled to get home.

And there were reports of wildfires breaking out on Corfu, another popular Greek island, with land and sea evacuations underway late Sunday.

On Rhodes, firefighters tackled blazes that erupted in peak tourism season, sparking the country's largest-ever wildfire evacuation -- and leaving flights and holidays cancelled.

Hundreds of holidaymakers milled inside Rhodes international airport, some trying to sleep on their beach towels as they waited for flights off the island.

Kelly Squirrel, a transport administrator on holiday from the UK, told AFP she spotted the fires from the poolside and ran down to the beach after being told to evacuate.

"We were walking for about six hours in the heat" to escape, she said.

Rhodes is one of Greece's most popular holiday destinations, particularly with British, German and French tourists. In the rush to leave, some visitors had to abandon their belongings.

"We had to lend a woman some of my wife's clothes because she had nothing to wear," Kevin Sales, an engineer from England, told AFP. "It was terrible."

Fires on other islands

Other Greek islands were reporting similar problems.

A wildfire broke out on Greece's second-largest island, Evia, according to the fire services, and several residential areas had to be evacuated.

Evia, situated off central Greece's eastern coast, was devastated last year by some of the worst wildfires in the country's history.

And several hundred miles to the northwest, the Greek island of Corfu, another favourite with foreign tourists, was struggling with its own wildfires Sunday evening.

Officials on the island, which sits in the Ionian sea off the northwest of Greece, have already issued evacuation alerts for 12 villages there, the Athens News Agency reported.

The coast guard there said a rescue operation was underway at Nissaki beach on the northeast of the island, due to a wild fire.

Six coastguard vessels and seven private boats had already taken 59 people off the beach.

Holiday flights cancelled

Greece has been battered by an extended spell of extreme heat and fires have burned for nearly a week on Rhodes.

On Rhodes, winds of up to 49 kilometres (31 miles) per hour complicated efforts to bring the flames under control.

"This is the biggest fire evacuation ever in Greece," Konstantia Dimoglidou, Greek police spokeswoman told AFP of the Rhodes operation. "We had to evacuate an area of 30,000 people."

Police said the authorities had transported 16,000 people across land, and evacuated 3,000 by sea. Others had to flee by road or used their own transport after being told to leave the area.

German travel giant Tui said it was suspending all its inbound passen ger flights to Rhodes until Tuesday but would send empty planes to help evacuate tourists.

Spokesperson Linda Jonczyk told AFP that Tui had some 40,000 tourists in Rhodes, of which 7,800 are affected by the fires.

The low-cost British carrier Jet2 also said it had cancelled "all flights and holidays" to the island.

Authorities have warned that the battle to contain the flames will take several days.

More than 260 firefighters, backed by 18 aircraft, were battling the fire on Sunday, with Croatia, France, Slovakia and Türkiye having contributed equipment and personnel , officials said.


Source: TRT