Burnt cars are seen after a wildfire in Kiotari village, on Rhodes island, Greece, 23 July 2023. EFE/EPA/DAMIANIDIS LEFTERIS

Thousands evacuated on Greek island of Rhodes due to wildfires

Athens, Jul 23 (EFE).- At least 19,000 people, including 6,000 tourists, have been evacuated on the Greek island of Rhodes because of a massive forest fire on Sunday due to high temperatures and strong winds.

About 3,000 tourists were taken to safety by sea, while the rest were evacuated by land, a fire department spokesperson told Greek TV station SKAI.

The fire has forced the evacuation of 11 towns in the center and on the eastern coast of the island, while the flames have damaged at least three hotels in the coastal village of Kiotari and burned several homes in the town of Laerma.

Tourists and residents sleep in Venetokleio sports Arena, wich is converted into a shelter after a wildfire, on Rhodes island, Greece, 23 July 2023. EFE/EPA/DAMIANIDIS LEFTERIS

Some 270 firefighters were fighting the blaze for the sixth consecutive day on Sunday, amid high temperatures and strong winds.

Thousands of tourists had to spend the night in schools, sports halls and on ferries.

In videos posted on social media on Saturday, long lines of tourists, suitcase in hand, heading on foot to nearby beaches to be evacuated.

Some have denounced a lack of organization and information by the authorities and emphasize that they had to walk several kilometers in the sun with small children and their belongings to reach the evacuation points.

So far no injuries have been reported, although nine people had to be taken to local health centers with minor respiratory problems due to smoke inhalation.

Firefighters are battling the blaze on three separate fronts, while the fire has already razed thousands of hectares of forest.

“The island’s environment has really been destroyed. The images I see are unprecedented,” Efthímios Lekkas, a professor specializing in natural disasters, told ERT public television.

The disaster is also a severe blow to the economy of Rhodes, which heavily relies on tourism.

Greece is experiencing an extreme heat wave – forecast to be the longest in the country’s history – with temperatures exceeding 44 degrees on Saturday in central Greece, while thermometers are expected to reach 45 degrees on Sunday.EFE