Thousands flee homes, hotels in Greece as fires spread

A blaze takes hold of woodland on Rhodes. Photo: Reuters

Thousands of people have been evacuated from homes and hotels on the island of Rhodes, according to Greece’s fire service.

Private boats have joined the Greek coastguard in helping to pick up people from beaches on the east of the island.

Greek navy vessels are also reported to be heading to the area, which is popular with tourists.

Greece’s deputy fire chief said the fires on Rhodes are the most difficult his service is currently facing.

No injuries have been reported, according to the Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection in Greece.

The ministry said visitors are being evacuated safely from affected areas of Rhodes – which represent less than 10% of the island’s tourist accommodation – and are being redirected to other hotels on the island.

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Five helicopters and 173 firefighters are operating in the area, with three hotels in the Kiotari area reported to have been damaged by fire. The areas of Laerma, Lardos and Asklipio were also affected.

Deputy fire chief Ioannis Artophios estimated that more than 2,000 people have already been moved by sea to a safer location. He said a ferry is also available to accommodate people.

One British woman said she was evacuated from the hotel she was staying at with her sister and daughter, but was now stuck on a beach with hundreds of others in the severe heat.

“There’s just a small shack here and there’s so many of us,” Becky Mulligan told the BBC. “There’s children, it’s the middle of the day, we are just stuck here with no help, it’s disgusting.”

Simon Wheatley said ash had begun falling onto his pizza when he was eating.

“The hotel said this was normal and there was no need to worry as they were in contact with the authorities about the situation,” he told the BBC.

His hotel was later evacuated.

“We saw that a beach bar that we were at just the day before had burnt down. The smoke was so bad. We had to leave two bags of luggage.”

Map showing location of fires on Rhodes

Travel company TUI said a small number of its hotels had been affected and it was relocating customers to alternative accommodation as a precaution.

Jet2 also said it was aware of the situation in Rhodes and was asking customers to follow local guidance.

Firefighters from Slovakia arrived on Rhodes on Saturday to help local teams battling the fires.

“The situation in Rhodes is serious and extremely difficult. Due to the strong wind and quickly changing direction of the fire, firefighters had to withdraw and move,” Slovak Fire and Rescue Services posted on Facebook.

Part of the Slovak rescue team had moved to the coastal resorts to help evacuation efforts there, they said.

Greece is facing further intense heat this weekend, with meteorologists warning that temperatures could climb as high as 45C (113F).

It could turn into Greece’s hottest July weekend in 50 years, one of the country’s top meteorologists has said.

Firefighters are continuing to battle dozens of wildfires across the country. An area west of Athens is among the worst-hit areas, along with Laconia in the southern Peloponnese and the island of Rhodes.

And authorities are warning of a very high risk of new blazes as the heat continues to rise.

People have been advised to stay home, and tourist sites – including Athens’ ancient Acropolis – will be shut during the hottest parts of the next two days.

Greece – like a number of other European countries – saw a prolonged spell of extreme heat earlier this month.

The latest heatwave comes at one of the busiest times for the country’s tourism industry.