Thousands have been forced to evacuate from the Greek island of Rhodes as wildfires continue to rage on three fronts entering a sixth day, authorities said on Sunday.
The fury of the flames has prompted the largest evacuation in the country’s history, forcing authorities to deploy a massive firefighting effort to contain the blaze, despite searing temperatures and unexpected winds.
The Climate Change and Civil Protection Ministry said 16,000 people were moved out by land, and 3,000 by sea in the “largest ever” wildfire evacuation.
They were transferred from 12 villages and several hotels, and although no casualties were reported, six people were hospitalized with respiratory problems.
As many as 266 firefighters and 49 fire engines were on the ground battling the blazes, assisted by five helicopters and 10 airplanes.
A further 15 fire engines are expected to arrive later in the day. Hundreds of volunteers are also taking part to douse the fires.
The ministry added that 31 firefighters with four engines from Slovakia, two aircraft each from Türkiye and France, and one from Croatia are also making efforts on the island.
Despite the efforts of firefighters, the weather continues to be a major issue, with temperatures reaching 38°C (100°F) before lunchtime. Low breezes exacerbate the situation, as does the unpredictability of Rhodes’ winds, which is typical of Greek islands.
Meanwhile, TUI Group, Europe’s largest tour operator, has canceled flights and scheduled trips to the Greek island until Tuesday.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said it will set up a support desk at Rhodes International Airport in collaboration with the relevant embassies to facilitate visitor departure.