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Massive Wildfire Forces Evacuation of 20,000 Tourists from Greek Island of Rhodes

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Massive Wildfire Forces Evacuation of Tourists from Greek Island of Rhodes

On Sunday, nearly 20,000 people were evacuated from the popular tourist destination of Rhodes in Greece due to a massive wildfire. The country’s largest blaze has grown out of control on the island, and strong winds are expected to hinder firefighters’ efforts to contain it.

Rhodes, known for attracting British, German, and French tourists, has been burning for about a week amid a prolonged heatwave in Greece.

Record-breaking Evacuation

Greek police spokeswoman Constantia Dimogledou stated that an area with 30,000 people had to be evacuated, making it the largest fire evacuation in Greece’s history. Authorities moved approximately 16,000 people by land, 3,000 by sea, and the rest fled using their own transportation after being instructed to leave the area.

Authorities have warned that it will take several days to bring the fire under control, posing a challenge in the midst of the peak tourist season.

Continued Threat

The fire department has issued a warning that the winds on Sunday will intensify, further fueling the fires. Last year, Rhodes welcomed 2.5 million tourists, but now the fires have reached the village of Lerma, damaging houses, a church, and many hotels along the coast.

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The fire is currently burning on three active fronts, with firefighters using helicopters, Chinooks, and air tractors to combat the flames. Their main focus is preventing the fire from spreading north into the dense forest.

Stranded Tourists

Tourists and some locals spent the night in gyms, schools, and hotel conference centers while firefighters battled the blaze. Panagiotis Demelis, head of the Archangelos village council, described the situation as unprecedented and mentioned that locals rushed to assist the tourists. Emergency facilities have been set up for tourists, and officials will help those who were evacuated get in touch with their tour operators.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Embassies in Greece are establishing a station at Rhodes Airport to assist tourists who have lost their travel documents during the evacuation process. Tour operators have also arranged additional charter flights to pick up travelers who want to leave the island.

‘Leave It All’

When the evacuation alert was sounded, tourists headed to the beach, dragging their suitcases behind them. Television footage showed a disoriented woman carrying her belongings through the smoke, while firefighters shouted at her to prioritize her life and leave everything behind.

Cedric Jesse, a Belgian tourist, had to leave his hotel on foot without any specific destination. He shared his experience of carrying ID cards, water, and something to cover their faces and heads for protection.

The impact of the fire on Rhodes is expected to be severe, affecting the island’s tourism industry. Many hotels in the surrounding area have been completely destroyed, raising doubts about their ability to operate this year.

In light of the fires’ exceptional circumstances in the country, the Greek presidency has canceled a national holiday scheduled for Monday.

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