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Photo taken on 22 shows a massive wildfire raging the Rhodes island in Greece. Alamy Stock Photo
Greek Wildfires

Over 2,000 evacuated from Corfu as Greece's largest-ever wildfire evacuation continues

It comes as tens of thousands of people fled wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes yesterday.

OVER 2,000 PEOPLE have been evacuated from Greece’s Corfu as firefighters tackle blazes that erupted in peak tourism season.

Fires have been raging in the north of the island, with 2,466 people evacuated overnight between Sunday and this morning, said Yannis Artopios, but no houses or hotels had been destroyed so far.

It comes as tens of thousands of people fled wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes yesterday as terrified holiday makers scrambled to get home.

The fires have created the country’s largest-ever wildfire evacuation – leaving flights and holidays cancelled.

Hundreds of holidaymakers milled inside Rhodes international airport, some trying to sleep on their beach towels as they waited for flights off the island.

Kelly Squirrel, a transport administrator on holiday from the UK, told AFP she spotted the fires from the poolside and ran down to the beach after being told to evacuate.

“We were walking for about six hours in the heat” to escape, she said.

Rhodes is one of Greece’s most popular holiday destinations, particularly with British, German and French tourists.

In the rush to leave, some visitors had to abandon their belongings.

rhodes-island-22nd-july-2023-this-photo-taken-on-july-22-2023-shows-smoke-caused-by-a-massive-wildfire-in-the-rhodes-island-in-greece-at-least-2000-residents-and-holidaymakers-were-evacuated-by Thousands of holiday makers and residents have evacuated by sea in the fire-stricken areas of Rhodes island. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Here, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has advised Irish citizens in Rhodes to “stay away” from areas affected by wildfires burning out of control on the island.

A spokesperson for the DFA said it has been contacted by “a number of Irish citizens impacted by the current fires in Rhodes”.

“Irish citizens are being advised to be alert and stay away from the affected areas, and to move rapidly out of any areas affected,” the spokesperson said.

The DFA also said that 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.

Fires on other islands

Other Greek islands were reporting similar problems.

A wildfire broke out on Greece’s second-largest island, Evia, according to the fire services, and several residential areas had to be evacuated.

Evia, situated off central Greece’s eastern coast, was devastated last year by some of the worst wildfires in the country’s history.

And several hundred miles to the northwest, the Greek island of Corfu, another favourite with foreign tourists, was struggling with its own wildfires yesterday evening.

Officials on the island, which sits in the Ionian sea off the northwest of Greece, have already issued evacuation alerts for 12 villages there, the Athens News Agency reported.

The coast guard there said a rescue operation was underway at Nissaki beach on the northeast of the island, due to a wild fire.

Six coastguard vessels and seven private boats had already taken 59 people off the beach.

Holiday flights cancelled

Greece has been battered by an extended spell of extreme heat and fires have burned for nearly a week on Rhodes.

On Rhodes, winds of up to 49 kilometres (31 miles) per hour complicated efforts to bring the flames under control.

“This is the biggest fire evacuation ever in Greece,” Konstantia Dimoglidou, Greek police spokeswoman told AFP of the Rhodes operation. “We had to evacuate an area of 30,000 people.”

Police said the authorities had transported 16,000 people across land, and evacuated 3,000 by sea. Others had to flee by road or used their own transport after being told to leave the area.

German travel giant Tui said it was suspending all its inbound passenger flights to Rhodes until tomorrow but would send empty planes to help evacuate tourists.

Spokesperson Linda Jonczyk told AFP that Tui had some 40,000 tourists in Rhodes, of which 7,800 are affected by the fires.

The low-cost British carrier Jet2 also said it had cancelled “all flights and holidays” to the island.

Authorities have warned that the battle to contain the flames will take several days.

More than 260 firefighters, backed by 18 aircraft, were battling the fire yesterday, with Croatia, France, Slovakia and Turkey having contributed equipment and personnel, officials said.

Last year Rhodes, which has a population of over 100,000, welcomed some 2.5 million tourists.

The fires reached the village of Laerma during the night, engulfing houses and a church, while many hotels were damaged by flames that had reached the coast. 

The authorities evacuated 11 villages overnight as a precaution.

Yesterday, the blaze was burning along three active fronts – including on the southeast coast of the island where firefighters tried to prevent the blaze from crossing a creek.

‘Leave everything’

Tourists and some locals spent the night in gyms, schools and hotel conference centres on the island.

The Greek foreign ministry and embassies in Greece were setting up a station at the Rhodes airport to help tourists who have lost travel documents in the scramble to evacuate.

TV footage broadcast by ERT Saturday showed a lone woman carrying her luggage through the smoke, looking disorientated.

Firefighters were heard shouting at her: “Madam, your life! Come here! Leave everything behind.’

A large part of the island was without electricity as the public power utility PPC shut down the local plant in the south for safety reasons.

“This is a special fire here because the heart of Rhodes and its environment is affected,” Efthymios Lekkas, a professor specialising in natural disasters told ERT TV yesterday, warning of a severe impact to the island’s tourist industry.

“All the big hotels have closed. I don’t think they will be able to operate this year because the surrounding area in each unit has been completely destroyed, and the environment is not inspiring for a holiday.”

© AFP 2022 

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