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Holidaymakers were evacuated from their hotels and left their belongings behind as the huge flames crawled closer Argyris Mantikos/AP

Irish citizens warned to 'stay away' from areas struck by Rhodes wildfires as 30k people evacuated

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it has been contacted by ‘a number of Irish citizens’ impacted by the fires.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Jul 2023

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, which have sparked the biggest ever fire evacuation in Greece. 

Locals and tourists fled hotspots on the island today, as firefighters, backed by water jets and helicopters, battled a blaze that sparked the country’s largest-ever fire evacuation.

Wind gusts of up to 49 kilometres (31 miles) per hour were complicating efforts to bring the flames under control.

The island of Rhodes is one of Greece’s most popular destinations for tourists, many of whom were being rapidly moved out of the path of the flames.

In a statement, 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.

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

As Greece has been battered by an extended spell of extreme heat, flames have burned for nearly a week on the island.

Temperatures, which reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in central Greece today, were expected to dip tomorrow before the mercury rises again for another four-day heatwave.

tourists-are-being-evacuated-during-a-forest-fire-on-the-island-of-rhodes-greece-saturday-july-22-2023-a-large-blaze-burning-on-the-greek-island-of-rhodes-for-the-fifth-day-has-forced-authorities Tourists being evacuated during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“This is the biggest fire evacuation ever in Greece,” Konstantia Dimoglidou, Greek police spokeswoman told AFP.

“We had to evacuate an area of 30,000 people.”

Police said that authorities had transported some 16,000 people across land, with 3,000 evacuated by sea, and others fleeing by road or under their own transport after being told to leave the area.

German travel giant Tui said it was suspending all of its inbound passenger flights to Rhodes until Tuesday but would fly in 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.

One German tourist told the Bild daily that they were “saved from the fire at the last moment” after returning from the beach on Saturday to a deserted hotel.

“We had embers flying around our heads and no help was in sight,” said 23-year-old Paul from Bielefeld.

“I had the feeling of being on my own, it was so hot and the smoke was already so thick we couldn’t have survived another ten minutes.”

He said buses then arrived to evacuate the tourists, but some were so panicked they were trying to find boats to escape on from the beach. 

Authorities have warned that the battle to contain the flames – raging in the middle of peak tourism season – will take several days.

More than 260 firefighters, backed by 18 aircraft, were battling the fire on Sunday, 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 tourist arrivals.

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 to the coast. Authorities evacuated 11 villages overnight as a precaution.

The blaze was burning along three active fronts today – 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 that have lost travel documents in the scramble to evacuate.

TV footage broadcast by ERT Saturday showed a solo 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 on Sunday, warning of a severe impact to the island’s tourist industry.

“I just did a drive from Lindos to Gennadi,” he said.

“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.”

The Greek presidency said it was cancelling a national holiday planned for Monday “in view of the extraordinary conditions prevailing in the country due to the fires.”

A separate wildfire broke out on Greece’s second-largest island, Evia, according to the fire services, although it was not near any homes.

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

Irish citizens are 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 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.

The spokesperson said that anyone in need of consular assistance can contact the Embassy of Ireland in Greece on +30 2107232771 or the Honorary Consulate of Ireland in Rhodes on +30 2241075655. 

clouds-of-smoke-from-a-forest-fire-rise-to-the-sky-on-the-island-of-rhodes-greece-saturday-july-22-2023-a-large-blaze-burning-on-the-greek-island-of-rhodes-for-the-fifth-day-has-forced-authoritie Clouds of smoke from a forest fire rise to the sky on the island of Rhodes, Greece. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Ryanair has said that its flights to and from Rhodes Airport are currently operating as normal and unaffected by the forest fires.

“Passengers departing from Rhodes should be advised that we will accept temporary travel documentation issued by the Greek Police,” the airline said in a statement.

“The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also set up a helpdesk at Rhodes airport to assist visitors who have lost their travel documents.”

Ryanair has also urged passengers to check the airline’s app for notifications of any changes to their flights.

The Irish Travel Agents Association said it is advising holiday makers on the island of Rhodes to follow local advice.

“Most Irish tourists are in the northern areas of Rhodes which are unaffected. The wildfires are in the south east corner of the island,” a spokesperson for the organisation said in a statement.

“If you are in an area affected and have been advised to evacuate, please do so and keep in contact with the local tour operator staff on the ground. Alternatively contact your tour operator or the travel agent you booked your holiday with for assistance.

“If possible keep your mobile phone charged and turn it onto roaming to receive alerts from local authorities.”

a-man-carries-a-child-as-they-leave-an-area-where-a-forest-fire-burns-on-the-island-of-rhodes-greece-saturday-july-22-2023-a-large-wildfire-burning-on-the-greek-island-of-rhodes-for-a-fifth-day A man carries a child as they leave an area where a forest fire burns on the island of Rhodes. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

© AFP 2023, with reporting from Jane Moore

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