Wildfires in Greece engulf island of Rhodes as tourists seek safety
For the seventh straight day, Greece continues to battle devastating wildfires that are forcing widespread evacuations and damaging property. Firefighters are battling flames throughout the affected regions.
| View caption Hide caption
Greece battled to contain wildfires on the island of Rhodes for a seventh day on Tuesday, as hundreds of tourists who had been forced to evacuate in previous days were expected to fly back to their countries.
Some 20,000 people had to leave homes and hotels in Rhodes over the weekend as the inferno that began a week ago spread and reached coastal resorts on the verdant island’s southeast, after charring swathes of land and damaging buildings.
More than 2,000 holidaymakers returned home by plane on Monday, and more repatriation flights were expected on Tuesday. Tour operators also canceled upcoming trips.
Greece is often hit by wildfires during the summer but climate change has led to more extreme heatwaves across southern Europe, raising concerns that tourists will stay away.
Hundreds of firefighters, helped by forces from Turkey and Slovakia, battled to tame the blazes close to the villages of Gennadi and Vati in the southeast of Rhodes as the wildfires resurged in hot, windy conditions. A plane fighting wildfires in Greece crashed on Tuesday and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned of tough days ahead with blazes destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of thousands of tourists from the island of Rhodes.
Wildfires also raged on the island of Corfu, off the west coast of Greece, and Evia island, near the capital of Athens.
“The fires have rekindled across the country but no settlements are being threatened for now,” a fire brigade official told Reuters.
The Greek islands are popular with sun-seeking holidaymakers from around Europe in the summer, particularly Britons and Germans.
TUI AG, one of the world’s largest tour operators, has said it was canceling trips to Rhodes through Friday and offering free cancellations or rebookings to other destinations. It said it had 39,000 customers on Rhodes as of Sunday evening.
The Dutch foreign ministry has issued a travel warning for Rhodes, as well as the islands of Corfu and Evia.
Greece has seen very high temperatures in recent weeks and the mercury was forecast to rise again through Wednesday, exceeding 44 Celsius (111.2 Fahrenheit) in some areas.
Civil protection authorities warned of extreme risk of wildfires in Rhodes and on the island of Crete on Tuesday.
Tourism accounts for 18% of Greece’s output and 1 in 5 jobs. On Rhodes and many other Greek islands, reliance on tourism is even greater.
“We are in the seventh day of the fire and it hasn’t been controlled,” Rhodes Deputy Mayor Konstantinos Taraslias told state broadcaster ERT.
Tourists spent the night on the airport floor, waiting for repatriation flights.
“It was quite a bit of a struggle on the beach with the smoke,” said John Hope, a tourist from Manchester, England.
Tour operators Jet2, TUI AG, and Corendon canceled flights leaving for Rhodes. Britain’s easyJet EZJ.L said on Sunday it was operating two repatriation flights on Monday from Rhodes to London’s Gatwick airport in addition to the nine flights already operating between the island and Gatwick.
The airline said it will add another repatriation flight on Tuesday.
Ryanair said on Sunday its flights to and from Rhodes were operating as normal. Its Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan said the airline was monitoring the situation on Monday.
“We have a lot of customers there who want to get home. We’re not going to leave them behind so we’ll travel back in and out,” he said. “It’s not necessary at this period in time [to put on more flights], we’re letting people book onto earlier flights.”
On Rhodes, some holidaymakers said they walked for miles in scorching heat to reach safety. The fires left blackened trees and dead animals lay in the road near burnt-out cars.
Emergency services were also dealing with fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens, and Aigio, southwest of Athens.