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Wildfire On Greek Island Forces Mass Evacuations

Tourists are being evacuated as wildfire burns near Lindos, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 22, 2023. REUTERS/Lefteris Damianidis NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Wildfire On Greek Island Forces Mass Evacuations

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July 22, 2023

ATHENS, July 22 (Reuters) – A wildfire which has been raging on the Greek island of Rhodes for five days forced hundreds of people to flee affected villages and beaches by land and sea on Saturday, authorities said.

Coast guard vessels and more than 30 private boats evacuated at least 2,000 people, including tourists, from beaches close to the areas of Kiotari and Lardos in the southeastern part of the island, coast guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told Skai television. 

He said an operation was ongoing to evacuate about 600 people from beaches in Kiotari and Gennadi towards Plimmiri.

Authorities have also urged about 1,000 people to leave the villages of Pefki, Lindos and Kalathos as flames approached, fire brigade spokesperson Vassilis Vathrakogiannis said.

Firefighters, backed by air water bombers and reinforcements by Slovakia, struggled with new outbreaks of the wildfire, which was fanned by strong winds.

Greek television showed crowds of tourists with their luggage walking along a road as part of an evacuation operation, while smoke could be seen in the background.

“We had set up firebreaks around the village of Laerma last night, but a 180-degree change of the winds this morning helped the fire grow much bigger across many kilometers … reaching a tourist area,” Konstantinos Taraslias, a deputy mayor of Rhodes, told Open TV.

Those evacuated are being housed at an indoor stadium and at hotels on the island, Taraslias said. Three passenger ferries will also host tourists during the night, the coastguard said. 

The fire has scorched swathes of dense forest since breaking out in a mountainous area on Tuesday. It damaged at least three hotels in the seaside village of Kiotari on Saturday, according to the Athens News Agency.

Civil protection authorities have warned of a very high risk of wildfires on Rhodes and many other areas in Greece on Sunday, as temperatures were expected to hit 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) amid a heatwave.

Senior government officials will travel to Rhodes to assist the situation. The Greek foreign ministry activated its crisis management unit to offer assistance to foreigners who want to leave the country, it said on Saturday.

Fires are common in Greece but hotter, drier and windy summers have turned the country into a wildfire hotspot in recent years. Meteorologists have warned that the current sweltering temperatures are expected to last until the end of the month.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Frances Kerry, Mike Harrison and Daniel Wallis)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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