MICHAEL VARACLAS and DEREK GATOPULOS (Associated Press)
RHODES, Greece (TodayNews) — A week-old wildfire on the Greek resort island of Rhodes breached defenses on Monday, forcing more evacuations as strong winds and successive heatwaves that left the bush and forest dry set off three major fires raging elsewhere in Greece.
The latest evacuation was ordered in the south of Rhodes after 19,000 people, mostly tourists, were transported by bus and boat over the weekend from a fire path that reached several coastal areas from the nearby mountains. It was the largest evacuation in the country in recent years.
“We are at war – completely focused on the fires,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a debate in parliament. “In the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert.”
Aid continued to pour in from the European Union and elsewhere, and firefighter planes from neighboring Turkey joined the effort in Rhodes, where 10 water drop planes and 10 helicopters flew up to 5 meters (16 feet) in flames despite poor visibility.
Temperatures hit low 40 degrees Celsius (above 104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of mainland Greece on Monday, the day after it soared to 45 degrees (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
Ian Myurison, a London-based businessman vacationing in south Rhodes with his wife and 12-year-old son, described the ordeal his family had as they tried to escape the fire on Saturday.
“We saw flames rising over the hills. Our hotel was designed for 1200 (persons), but there was only one bus waiting,” he said. “We all just took our suitcases and went. It took about 3 kilometers (almost 2 miles) before we got out from under the ash cloud.
The family made it to a nearby beach, where they waited – in the dark due to a power outage – with thousands of other people being evacuated by bus or boat.
“You could see the orange glow in the sky and it got bigger and bigger, big balls of fire going up into the sky,” Murison said, describing chaotic scenes as evacuees crowded to board small boats arriving to pick them up.
“It doesn’t matter if you have children, adults fought to be around,” he said. “It was very, very stressful.”
Near the seaside resort of Lindos, AP reporters saw hotel staff and guests, joined by local residents and firefighters, use fire extinguishers, towels and buckets of pool water to put out a small forest fire that broke out in the area.
Evacuations were also given at night on the western island of Corfu, where more than 2,000 people were moved to safety by land and sea, as well as on the island of Evia and in the mountainous area in the southern Peloponnese.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that she reached out to the prime minister late Sunday evening to offer more help as Greece “faces devastating wildfires and heatwaves due to climate change.”
Appeal to Parliament. Mitsotakis also underlined the threat of climate change, which he said “will make its presence even more pronounced due to larger natural disasters throughout the Mediterranean region.”
Greece has seen an average of 50 new forest fires a day over the past 12 days, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said. On Sunday, 64 new fires were recorded.
The fire of Rhodes swept over the mountain slopes, burning houses and cars and leaving livestock dead on the roadsides as they tried to escape.
Authorities said no serious injuries were reported, but hospitals and medical volunteers provided first aid to tourists and others, mostly for the effects of heat and dehydration.
Firefighters also faced fires on Monday in southern Italy, where people were exhausted for weeks in temperatures ranging from 30 to 40 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit and higher).
A wind-blown fire has broken out near Palermo in Sicily, as have several other fires on the Mediterranean island, including near the seaside tourist resort of Cefalu. There have also been forest fires in Calabria, including in the rocky mountains of Aspromonte.
In Sardinia, three flights from Milan, Paris and Amsterdam had to land at other airports on the Italian island because the runway in Olbia was deemed dangerously hot on Monday afternoon, state television RAI reported. The asphalt temperature reached 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 F).
Due to fires in Greece, several airlines, including easyJet and package operator Tui, sent planes to Rhodes to evacuate tourists who were forced to leave their hotels. The UK government has said between 7,000 and 10,000 British citizens are on the island, a popular holiday destination.
Some tourists stated that travel companies did not provide information or assistance. Greek foreign ministry officials were working at the international airport with several embassies and diplomats coming from the UK to help tourists who lost their travel documents.
Rhodes is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece with around 2.5 million tourists visiting every year. While some visitors continued to leave the island on Monday, others arrived from various European countries to start their holiday at resorts unaffected by the bushfire – about 90% of the total, according to Greek authorities.
Greece uses the EU satellite service to assess fire damage and determine resources. Photos posted online by the service show a brown, hourglass-shaped burn scar in the middle of the island.
The army also helped organize temporary housing in Rhodes, where schools and sports facilities were opened.
A relative respite from Monday’s heat, with a 38 C (100 F) high forecast, should be accompanied by even warmer temperatures starting Tuesday, but cooler weather is expected on Thursday.
Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Associated Press contributors Petros Yannakouris in Rhodes, Sylvia Hui and Jill Lawless in London, and Francis D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/climate-and-environment.