Large parts of the Greek island of Rhodes were ruined by fierce wildfires, prompting an evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists. The country’s fire service is working to combat the flames.

The island has been facing wildfires exacerbated by strong winds, since Tuesday, simultaneously with a heatwave affecting Europe.

More than 3,500 people have been evacuated from the affected regions, including popular tourist areas. The evacuation process, carried out by land and sea, involved the deployment of five helicopters and 173 firefighters to support the evacuation of residents and visitors alike. The Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Ministry in Greece has taken charge of updating and coordinating evacuation efforts.

Tourists have been particularly impacted, with the fire affecting less than 10% of the island’s tourist accommodations, leaving many stranded in perilous conditions. Authorities have redirected visitors to safer hotels on the island.

Three hotels in the Kiotari area have suffered significant losses. The regions of Laerma, Lardos, and Asklipio have also been affected.

Private boats have also contributed to the evacuation alongside the Greek coastguard. These boats have been picking up people from beaches on the east of the island. In addition, Greek navy vessels are en route to the affected area to assist in the evacuation efforts.

Despite the scale of the operation, there have been no reported injuries so far, thanks to the coordinated efforts of rescue teams and the prompt action taken to evacuate residents and tourists to safer locations.

The island’s greenery, part of its appeal to tourists, makes firefighting challenging. The dense vegetation has provided fuel for the fires, exacerbating the situation, and necessitating additional resources to combat the flames effectively.

British tourist Andrea Layfield was initially evacuated from her hotel along with her sister and daughter. They found themselves stranded on a beach with hundreds of others as the fire rapidly approached. With the assistance of a private boat, they were rescued. However, the limited capacity initially led to a priority given to women and children, leaving them in a dire situation. Andrea eventually boarded the boat.

Another individual, Mark Cook, had to evacuate his family from a five-star luxury resort using a speedboat. The evacuation process proved challenging, with poor visibility, smoke inhalation, and a lack of clear directions adding to the difficulty.

Deputy fire chief Ioannis Artophios has been at the forefront of evacuation efforts.

Artophios revealed that a ferry has been made available to accommodate people who need to escape the wildfire’s path. As the flames spread, some people found temporary shelter in an indoor stadium on the island.

Greek television channels have been airing footage of the evacuation process, capturing long queues of tourists with suitcases, seeking safety as smoke billows in the background.

Greece has recently endured a prolonged spell of extreme heat, mirroring similar conditions experienced in other parts of Europe. The heatwave strained resources and tested communities’ resilience.

The current heatwave coincides with one of the busiest periods for Greece’s thriving tourism industry. Visitors flock to the country during the summer to explore its history, beaches, and islands. However, with the elevated risk of wildfires, tourists and locals alike are urged to remain vigilant and adhere to safety guidelines.

Authorities are closely monitoring weather patterns and collaborating with relevant agencies to assess fire risk and mitigate heatwave impact in Greek island of Rhodes.