Thousands more evacuated as Greece battles wildfires

AFP , Monday 24 Jul 2023

Authorities evacuated nearly 2,500 people from the Greek island of Corfu on Monday as crews fight several wildfires in heat-battered Greece.

Evacuees sit inside a stadium following their evacuation during a forest fire on the island of Rhode
Evacuees sit inside a stadium following their evacuation during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece, Sunday, July 23, 2023. AP


Tens of thousands of people have already fled blazes on the island of Rhodes, with many frightened tourists scrambling to get home.

About 2,400 visitors and locals were evacuated from Corfu from Sunday into Monday, a fire service spokesman said, adding that the departures were a precaution.

Greece has been sweltering under a lengthy spell of extreme heat that has exacerbated wildfire risk and left visitors stranded in peak tourist season.

Kelly Squirrel, a transport administrator from the UK, said police had ordered people from her hotel on Rhodes to evacuate.

"We had to keep walking," she told AFP at the international airport. "So we walked for about six hours in the heat."

Rhodes, which counted 2.5 million visitor arrivals in 2022, is one of Greece's leading holiday destinations.

Greek television broadcast images of long lines of people, some in beachwear, lugging suitcases along the island's roads on Saturday, when the evacuations were ordered.

More extreme heat expected

Some 30,000 people fled the flames on Rhodes at the weekend, the country's largest-ever wildfire evacuation.

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.

"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."

Tourists and some locals spent the night in gyms, schools and hotel conference centres on the island.

Several travel companies have halted their inbound tourist flights to Rhodes, but have been helping to ferry foreigners home.

Crews have been battling the flames in parts of Greece for about a week, and firefighters were from dawn on Monday using aircraft to try to douse the flames on Rhodes.

According to the authorities, many regions of the country were under extreme risk of forest fires on Monday, but no towns were directly threatened by flames on Sunday night, the fire service told AFP.

Like every summer, Greece is plagued by forest fires, often deadly, ravaging tens of thousands of hectares of forest and vegetation.

This summer, the country experienced one of the longest heatwaves in recent years, according to experts, with temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) at the weekend.

On Monday, the temperature was expected to drop slightly with temperatures expected to reach 37C in Athens, but on Tuesday, the heat is expected to pick up again.

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