Wildfires ravage Greek island of Rhodes, forcing 19,000 to flee


Wildfires raging across the popular Greek vacation island of Rhodes prompted authorities to evacuate 19,000 tourists and residents from danger zones, in what officials described as the largest ever preventive fire evacuation in the country’s history.

At least 164 fires burned in 58 places on the island in the past 24 hours, Greece’s fire service said Sunday, as residents were forced to leave their homes and summer vacations morphed into chaotic nightmares. No casualties had been reported, according to officials at the country’s Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection.

The fires come as parts of southern Europe swelter under a heat wave that has forced many nations, including Greece, to issue warnings, with temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Other fires have broken out in Greece this month, including in Athens, where the Acropolis was closed to tourists on July 15. More than 100 houses and businesses were severely damaged in the Athens blaze and another nearby, Reuters reported, citing local authorities.

European heat wave sparks multiple warnings, shuts Greece’s Acropolis

In response to the latest wildfires, airlines TUI and Jet2 announced on Sunday that they were canceling flights to Rhodes as tourists on the island took to social media to document their experiences.

The deputy mayor of Rhodes, Athanasios Vyrinis, warned Sunday that authorities were straining to cope with the large number of evacuees. “There is only water and some rudimentary food — we don’t have mattresses and beds,” he said, according to the BBC, adding that some people had slept in cardboard boxes.

On Twitter, some tourists shared how they fled vacation resorts on the island — grabbing their children and running — as fires encroached on their hotels, while others spent the night in makeshift accommodations, sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

“We are safe for now,” one tourist, Dan Jones, wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of three young children sitting on a boat, an orange sky behind them. “After wading into the sea and climbing on a fishing trawler, we are away from danger,” Jones said, describing the experience as “the scariest moment in my entire life” and thanking the local people who came to his family’s aid.

Last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis cut short his visit to Brussels and returned to Greece as other nations including Cyprus and Israel pledged help for the country. France and Italy sent aircraft to help the firefighting operation, while Slovakia sent around 30 firefighters and five fire engines.

In a Sunday update, Greek authorities described “extreme climatic conditions” prevailing throughout the country — which has sweltered in recent weeks — warning that “even the smallest fire can develop into a huge natural disaster.”

Last year, a U.N. report concluded that the risk of uncontrollable wildfires around the world is intensifying with the rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Even with deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, the U.N. analysis projected the risk would increase by 50 percent by the end of the century.


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