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Wildfires rage on the island of Corfu in Greece Alamy Stock Photo

Nearly 2,500 people evacuated from Corfu as prime minister warns Greece 'at war' with wildfires

Tens of thousands of people have already fled blazes on the island of Rhodes.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Jul 2023

GREECE IS SWELTERING in a new wave of soaring temperatures today, as wildfires rage on several popular tourist islands, forcing mass evacuations.

Many regions of the country are on “red alert”, meaning there is an extreme risk of dangerous forest fires exacerbated by strong winds.

The very hot weather comes after a weekend of intense heat as thousands of locals and tourists fled forest fires on the Greek islands of Rhodes and Corfu, with the prime minister warning the heat-battered nation is “at war” with the flames.

Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group said today that the heatwaves that have hit parts of Europe and North America this month would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.

“We have another difficult summer ahead of us,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the cabinet.

WWF Greece today said 35,000 hectares of forest and other land had already been scorched by fire in the country just in the past week.

In the capital Athens the heat is expected to reach 41 degrees Celsius, and hit up to 44C in central Greece, according to the national weather forecaster EMY.

Authorities evacuated nearly 2,500 people from the Greek island of Corfu yesterday, after tens of thousands of people had already fled blazes on the island of Rhodes, with many frightened tourists scrambling to get home on evacuation flights.

More than 260 firefighters were still battling flames for an eighth consecutive day on Rhodes, supported by two helicopters and two planes.

a-man-uses-towel-over-his-face-as-he-tries-to-extinguish-a-fire-near-the-seaside-resort-of-lindos-on-the-aegean-sea-island-of-rhodes-southeastern-greece-on-monday-july-24-2023-a-weeklong-wildfi A man uses towel over his face as he tries to extinguish a fire, near the seaside resort of Lindos, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A source at Rhodes airport operators Fraport today said the situation had normalised, with traffic levels consistent with the height of the summer season on one of Greece’s prime travel destinations.

The Greek transport ministry said over 2,100 people had flown home on emergency flights on Sunday and yesterday.

Fires were also raging on Greece’s second largest island of Evia, where Greek civil protection authorities issued an overnight evacuation order in one northern locality.

Mitsotakis said Greece’s state apparatus faced a “major challenge” as the prolonged heatwave and successive wildfires had officials on a 24-hour alert footing for “several weeks.”

The mercury hit 46.4C in Gythio, in the southern Peloponnese peninsula on Sunday, though failed to reach the hottest temperature nationally on record of 48C.

Mitsotakis has warned that the country faced “another three difficult days ahead” before high temperatures are forecast to ease from Thursday.

‘Protect our home’

The severe heatwave in Greece has also been reflected across much of southern Europe and Northern Africa.

In Algeria at least 34 people have died as wildfires raged through residential areas, forcing mass evacuations.

In southeastern France officials yesterday issued a fire warning at the highest level in the Bouches-du-Rhone region, warning that the weather conditions make the risk of flames “very high compared to normal summers”.

paradeisi-greece-24th-july-2023-tourists-wait-for-their-flight-at-diagoras-international-airport-among-those-affected-by-forest-fires-in-greece-are-many-vacationers-from-germany-credit-socrates Tourists wait for their flight at Diagoras International Airport Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The exceptional temperatures in Greece have forced key tourist sites such as the Acropolis in Athens to close at the hottest times of the day.

Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s civil protection minister, said crews had battled over 500 fires around the country for 12 straight days.

The fires are particularly devastating on very touristic islands such as Rhodes and Corfu where the season is in full swing and hotels are often full.

Volunteers had come to the aid of foreign tourists in the north of the island where nearly 200 people are still camped out at a school after being evacuated from the fires on Saturday.

In the village of Vati, in the southeast of the island, local mayor Vassilis Kalabodakis said that the impact on the region was “tragic”.

“The village has been ordered to evacuate but we can’t abandon it,” he said. “We are leading the fight to protect our home”.

flames-burn-a-hill-on-the-aegean-sea-island-of-rhodes-southeastern-greece-on-monday-july-24-2023-a-weeklong-wildfire-on-the-greek-island-of-rhodes-has-torn-past-defenses-forcing-more-evacuations Flames burn a hill on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Irish citizens

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said it is in touch with a number of Irish citizens impacted by the situation in Greece. 

It is also “deploying extra capacity to the region to support the consular response to the current wildfires”. 

The Department is advising Irish citizens to “be alert and stay away from the affected areas, and too move rapidly out of any areas affected”. 

“This is an evolving situation and citizens should comply with evacuation orders and follow instructions from the emergency services and local authorities,” it said. 

Irish citizens are also advised to call the Greek Emergency Services on 112 if they are in immediate danger and to turn mobile phones on to roaming to receive any alerts from local authorities.

Temporary shelters have been established by the authorities in Greece for tourists who have had to evacuate their hotels.

The DFA said anyone planning to travel to Greece should check with their travel operator or hotel to see if the area they plan to visit is impacted by the current wildfires and evacuations, as there is “likely to be travel disruption”.

“The Department is advising against travel to the affected areas,” they added.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has urged holidaymakers to be careful.

“Contact your tour operator. Take all advice from the authorities. Evacuate when you’re asked to evacuate and don’t hesitate,” he said, speaking to reporters at The Curragh yesterday. 

Asked whether people should be compensated for choosing not to travel to regions due to wildfires, Martin said a “refund would be the proper approach there”.

A number of Aer Lingus and Ryanair flights to Greece are scheduled to depart as planned today. 

With reporting by  © AFP 2023

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