September 29, 2023

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Forest fires on the Greek island of Rhodes force hundreds to evacuate

ATHENS (Reuters) – Forest fires that raged on the Greek island of Rhodes five days ago forced hundreds of people to flee affected villages and beaches on Saturday, authorities said.

Coast guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told Skai television that coast guard vessels and more than 30 private boats had evacuated at least 2,000 people, including tourists, from beaches near Kiotari and Lardos in the southeastern part of the island.

Firefighters, supported by aerial water bombers and reinforcements from Slovakia, battled as new wildfires raged for a fifth day and were fanned by high winds.

Greek television showed long lines of tourists with their luggage walking along a road as part of the evacuation process, with smoke seen in the background.

“We set up fire barriers around the village of Larma last night, but the 180-degree wind change this morning helped increase the size of the fire across several kilometers… all the way to a tourist area,” Rhodes deputy mayor Konstantinos Taraslias told OpenTV.

Taraslias said the evacuees were staying in an enclosed playground and hotels on the island. The Coast Guard said three passenger ferries are also committed to hosting overnight tourists.

The fire has burned vast areas of forest since it broke out in a mountainous area on Tuesday. Three hotels were destroyed in the coastal village of Kiotari on Saturday, according to the Athens News Agency.

Civil protection authorities warned of the risk of wildfires in Rhodes and several other regions of Greece on Sunday, when temperatures are expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) amid a heat wave.

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Senior government officials will travel to Rhodes to help with the situation.

Fires are common in Greece, but hotter, drier and windier summers have turned the country into a hotbed of wildfires in recent years. Meteorologists have warned that the current extreme temperatures are expected to continue until the end of the month.

(Reporting by Angeliki Kotanto) Editing by Frances Kerry and Mike Harrison

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