A wildfire which has raged on the Greek island of Rhodes for six days forced thousands of tourists and island residents to shelter in schools and indoor stadiums on Sunday after they were evacuated from coastal villages and resorts.
Coastguard vessels and dozens of private boats carried more than 2,000 tourists from beaches on Saturday after the wildfire was fanned by strong winds and rekindled along the southeastern part of island popular for beaches and ancient ruins.
Many fled their hotels when huge flames reached the seaside villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos and Kalathos. Large groups gathered in the streets under a smoke-filled red sky waiting to be taken to safety.
“We have between 4,000 and 5,000 people now accommodated at different structures,” Thanasis Virinis, a vice mayor of Rhodes told Mega television on Sunday, calling for donations of essentials such as mattresses and bedclothes.
One government official told Reuters 19,000 people had been moved from their homes and hotels. The civil protection ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Volunteers fought to extinguish a blaze that blackened the hillside and charred buildings near Lindos, one of the island’s most-visited sites and famed for an acropolis perched on a massive rock within medieval walls.
Civil protection has warned of a very high risk of wildfires on Sunday in almost half of Greece, where temperatures were expected to hit 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Heatwaves across Southern Europe and many parts of the world could last until August.
Fires are common in Greece but hotter, drier and windy summers have brought more of them in recent years. Climate change means heatwaves will become more frequent, an advisor to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Saturday.
On Rhodes, the evacuees, including residents from the villages, were housed at hotels, indoor stadiums, conference centers and school buildings, fire brigade spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told Skai radio.
“They have been given food, water and medical help,” he said, adding that the Greek foreign ministry will assist foreigners who want to leave the country at the Rhodes airport.
Firefighters, backed by aircraft that dropped water, battled three fronts on Sunday, setting up firebreaks to prevent flames from spreading to a dense forest or threatening more residential areas.
The fire has scorched swathes of forest and several buildings since breaking out in a mountainous area on Tuesday.