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Thousands evacuated as wildfires ravage Rhodes in Greece

Rhodes fires

Thousands of people have been evacuated as wildfires threatened homes and hotels on the Greek island of Rhodes. More than 2,000 were rescued from beaches on Saturday, as flames threatened hotels and tourist areas, officials said.

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The fires had been burning for most of the past week but were confined to the island’s mountainous interior until strong winds, high temperatures and dry conditions swept the flames towards the coast on the island’s central-eastern side.

Officials said the operation had been hampered by fires cutting off some road access. “The aim is to protect human life,” a spokesman said.

People were being taken to gyms, schools and conference centres on the island, while firefighters battled the blaze. Three passenger ferries were moored at the port of Rhodes to accommodate those rescued.

Coastguard vessels and more than 20 private boats were ­taking part in an emergency evacuation of people stranded on beaches close to Kiotari and Lardos on Saturday night, a coastguard official said.

One British woman told the BBC she had to be evacuated from her hotel with her sister and daughter, but was now stuck on a beach with hundreds of others in the severe heat.

The fire service said more than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines were tackling the blaze, assisted by five planes and three helicopters, as well as firefighters from Slovakia drafted in to help.

High winds and a six-mile fire front running from the centre of the island to its eastern beaches were creating extreme conditions, fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakogiannis told a local TV station.

“This is not a fire that will be over tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” he said. “It’ll be troubling us for days.”

Another 1,200 people were expected to be evacuated from the villages of Pefki, Lindos and Kalathos, he added.

In Athens, the foreign ministry said it had activated its crisis management unit to facilitate the evacuation of foreign citizens in Greece due to the ongoing forest fires.

Tui, the travel company, said a small number of its hotels had been affected and it was moving customers to alternative accommodation as a precaution. Jet2 said it was asking its customers to follow local guidance.

Meteorologists warned this could be Greece’s hottest July weekend in 50 years, with temperatures as high as 45C.

[The Guardian]