A large wildfire tearing through the Greek island of Rhodes forced thousands of tourists to flee their hotels in what Greek officials said was the largest evacuation effort in the country’s history.
Fires are also burning on the islands of Corfu and Evia, with Greek emergency services issuing evacuation orders for several parts of Corfu.
In Rhodes, those caught up in the blaze described chaotic and frightening scenes, with some having to leave on foot or find their own transportation after being told to leave.
The wildfire in the central and southern part of Rhodes – a hugely popular island for holidaymakers – has been burning since Tuesday. It is the largest of a number of blazes in Greece, which is sweltering due to a heat wave that experts say is likely to become the country’s longest on record.
Amy Leyden, a British tourist in Rhodes, said she was told to leave her hotel immediately or she and her family “would not make it.”
“It was just terrifying,” she told Sky News. “We’ve got our 11-year-old daughter with us and we were walking down the road at two o’clock in the morning and the fire was catching up with us.”
Cedric Guisset, a Belgian tourist, fled Saturday with nowhere to go. “We told the hotel about the messages we had received on our phones to evacuate the area, but they didn’t even know about it,” he told public radio station RTBF.
“We really just took our identity cards, water and something to cover our faces and heads.”
The Greek government said nearly 19,000 people had been evacuated on Rhodes since Saturday.
The government called the operation “the largest such effort Greece has ever seen,” and said 16,000 people, including tourists and residents, were transported by land and 3,000 by sea.
According to the local fire service, there are currently three active fronts firefighters are focusing on in the central and southern part of the island.
The blaze is burning near the areas of Kiotari and Lardos, not far from the Lindos archaeological site. The site has not been threatened so far.
On Monday, one of the fronts rekindled, threatening the village of Asklipio in the southern part of the island.
Turkey, Croatia and Egypt are assisting the Greek firefighting forces, according to the fire service.
Hotels, schools, sports centers and conference centers have been activated in safe parts of the island to host evacuees in need.
Greece’s foreign ministry will set up a dedicated helpdesk to assist tourists on their return to their respective countries, according to the Greek government. Tour operators have additionally ordered charter flights to land in Rhodes without passengers “in order to pick up travelers who wish to leave the island,” it said.
Eight people have been taken to hospital with respiratory problems, according to fire officials.
British airline Jet2 canceled all flights and holiday offers to Rhodes on Sunday. Holiday group TUI has also canceled all holiday packages to the Greek island up to and including on Tuesday due to the ongoing wildfires, both companies have said in statements.
British airline EasyJet is offering its customers two repatriation flights from Rhodes to London, the company said Monday. The company has canceled package holidays to Rhodes “up to and including Tuesday,” the statement continues.
The British government has deployed a team of Foreign Office officials and British Red Cross responders to Rhodes to help evacuate UK nationals from the island, British Foreign Minister James Cleverley said in a Tweet posted Monday.