ATHENS (Reuters) – A wildfire which has been raging on the Greek island of Rhodes for five days forced hundreds of people to flee affected villages and beaches on Saturday, authorities said.
Coastguard vessels and more than 30 private boats evacuated at least 2,000 people, including tourists, from beaches close to the areas of Kiotari and Lardos in the southeastern part of the island, coastguard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told Skai television.
Firefighters, backed by air-water bombers and reinforcements from Slovakia, struggled with new outbreaks of the wildfire, which burned for a fifth day and was fanned by strong winds.
Greek television showed long queues of tourists with their luggage walking along a road as part of an evacuation operation, while smoke could be seen in the background.
“We had set up firebreaks around the village of Laerma last night, but a 180-degree change of the winds this morning helped the fire grow much bigger across many kilometres…reaching a tourist area,” Konstantinos Taraslias, a deputy mayor of Rhodes, told Open TV.
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Those evacuated are being housed at an indoor stadium and hotels on the island, Taraslias said. Three passenger ferries were also committed to host tourists during the night, the coastguard said.
The fire has scorched swathes of forest since breaking out in a mountainous area on Tuesday. It damaged three hotels in the seaside village of Kiotari on Saturday, according to the Athens News Agency.
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Civil protection authorities have warned of a very high risk of wildfires in Rhodes and many other areas in Greece on Sunday, as temperatures were expected to hit 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) amid a heatwave.
Senior government officials will travel to Rhodes to assist with the situation.
Fires are common in Greece but hotter, drier and windy summers have turned the country into a wildfire hotspot in recent years. Meteorologists have warned that the current sweltering temperatures are expected to last until the end of the month.