Thousands Evacuated as Wildfire Rages on Greek Island of Rhodes

A large wildfire burning on the Greek island of Rhodes for a fifth day has prompted authorities to order an evacuation of four locations, including two seaside resorts. 

About 2,000 people, including tourists, were evacuated by sea, fire department spokesman Yannis Artopios said Saturday evening. He added that the hotels and rented homes evacuated “represent less than 10% of the island’s tourist accommodations.” He added that all had been evacuated without incident. 

Three coast guard vessels, an army lifeboat, a special forces inflatable craft and 30 private sailboats helped with the evacuation. 

Private passenger shipping company Blue Star has offered one of its ships to accommodate some of the evacuees, Artopios said. 

“Care has been taken to accommodate all those that needed to be taken away from the stricken areas,” he added. 

In previous days, the wildfire was confined to the island’s mountainous center, but aided by winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions, it spread Saturday toward the coast on the island’s central-eastern side. Local media reported the flames had reached three hotels, whose clients had been evacuated. 

Earlier Saturday, Artopios had said that the residents of four localities were sent SMS messages to evacuate — in two localities they were told to move to the northeast and, in two others, to the southwest. In those first two localities, the intensity of the blaze had abated, he said later. 

Artopios said that more than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines were operating on the ground, assisted by three planes and five helicopters. The force includes 31 firefighters from Slovakia, with five fire engines. 

The main fronts of the fire form a triangle, with two of its points near the sea and one in the mountains. On maps, each side of the triangle appears more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) long. 

The blaze in Rhodes was just one of several active across Greece, Artopios said, adding this is also the most dangerous. 

The fire northwest of Athens and one near Sparta were subsiding, he said, although the conditions, including temperatures set to reach 45 C (113 F) on Sunday and low humidity (below 15%), mean that the danger isn’t over and more wildfires might break out. 

The fire department has designated almost the whole eastern part of the mainland, plus the islands of Evia and Rhodes as well as large swaths of the southwest, as Category 5, the highest for the risk of fire outbreaks Sunday. A further chunk of Greece has been designated Category 4, very high risk. 

There will be a brief respite in the heat wave on Monday, but it will resume on Tuesday and could last until at least Friday, meteorologists have warned. 

Firefighting forces from eight European Union countries are either operating or to arrive soon, Artopios said. Israel, Jordan and Turkey have also sent reinforcements, mostly aerial equipment. 

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