Rhodes, Greece: Fires Trigger Evacuations

A wildfire that ignited a week ago on the Greek resort island of Rhodes continued to rage on Monday, forcing more evacuations as high winds and successive heat waves that left scrubland and forests dry fueled three major blazes raging elsewhere in Greece.

The latest evacuations have been ordered in southern Rhodes after 19,000 people, mostly tourists, were moved in buses and boats over the weekend out of the path of the blaze which reached several coastal areas from nearby mountains. It was the largest evacuation operation in the country in recent years.

“We are at war – completely focused on the fires,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a debate in parliament. “Over the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert.”

Reinforcement continued to arrive from the European Union (EU) and elsewhere, with firefighting planes from neighboring Turkey joining the effort on Rhodes, where 10 tanker planes and 10 helicopters hovered above flames up to five meters high despite poor visibility.

Temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius in parts of mainland Greece on Monday, a day after hitting 45 degrees.

Near the resort town of Lindos, hotel staff and guests, joined by local residents and firefighters, used fire extinguishers, towels and buckets of pool water to put out a small bushfire that broke out in the area.

Evacuations were also ordered overnight on the western island of Corfu, where more than 2,000 people were brought to safety by land and sea, as well as on the island of Evia and a mountainous area in the southern Peloponnese.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen posted on Twitter that she contacted the prime minister on Sunday evening to offer him further help as Greece “faces devastating forest fires and a severe heat wave due to climate change”.

Addressing Parliament, Mr Mitsotakis also highlighted the threat of climate change, which he said “will increasingly make its presence felt, with greater natural disasters across the Mediterranean region”.

In Greece, an average of 50 new forest fires have broken out daily in the past 12 days, according to government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis. On Sunday, 64 new fires were recorded.

The Rhodes Fire ripped down mountain slopes, burning homes and cars and leaving dead cattle on the side of the road as they tried to escape.

Authorities said no serious injuries were reported, but hospitals and health volunteers treated people, mostly for the effects of heat and dehydration.

Due to the fires in Greece, several airlines, including easyJet and travel company Tui, sent planes to Rhodes to evacuate tourists driven from hotels. The UK government said between 7,000 and 10,000 British nationals were on the island, a popular destination for package holidays.

Rhodes is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece, visited by around 2.5 million tourists every year. While some visitors continued to flee the island on Monday, others were arriving from several European destinations to start their vacations at resorts unaffected by the wildfire – about 90% of the total according to Greek authorities.

Greece is using an EU satellite service to estimate fire damage and target resources. Photographs posted online by the service showed an hourglass-shaped brown burn scar in the middle of the island.

The military was also helping set up temporary accommodation in Rhodes, where schools and sports facilities were opened to help with the effort.

This article is originally published on lechodemaskinonge.com

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