24 Jul 2023

Corfu latest Greek island to evacuate over wildfires

3:24 pm on 24 July 2023

By George Wright for BBC News

People watch the fires near the village of Malona in the Greek island of Rhodes on July 23, 2023. Tens of thousands of people fled wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes on July 23, 2023, as terrified tourists scrambled to get home. Firefighters tackled blazes that erupted in peak tourism season, sparking the country's largest-ever wildfire evacuation -- and leaving flights and holidays cancelled. (Photo by SPYROS BAKALIS / AFP)

People watch the fires near the village of Malona in the Greek island of Rhodes on July 23, 2023. Photo: AFP / Spyros Bakalis

Corfu has become the latest Greek island to issue an evacuation order, as the country grapples with wildfires.

Photos uploaded to social media show flames engulfing Corfu. A fire broke out on the northern part of the island, which is popular with British tourists.

It comes after some 19,000 people were evacuated on the island of Rhodes, which has also been hit by fires.

Many were forced to flee their hotels as the flames continued to spread from the centre of the Greek island.

Greece has been grappling with searing heat, with temperatures exceeding 40C across the country, and fires have blazed for nearly a week in some areas.

A national holiday that had been planned for Monday has been cancelled "in view of the extraordinary conditions prevailing in the country due to the fires", the Greek presidency said.

Late on Sunday evening Greece's Emergency Communications Service published evacuation orders for a number of areas of Corfu.

People in the areas of Santa, Megoula, Porta, Palia, Perithia and Sinies on the island have been told to evacuate.

Boats in the area had been dispatched to evacuate residents by sea, a government official said.

Corfu - sits in the Ionian sea off the northwest of Greece - is a destination popular with tourists, with hundreds of thousands Brits visiting every year.

Rhodes - an island some 1027km away - has been battling wildfires fanned by strong winds since Tuesday and after smoke started enveloping tourist areas.

Some 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3000 by sea on the island, according to local officials. Greece's Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was "the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country".

Thousands of holidaymakers were camped out at Rhodes airport on Sunday, waiting for a flight to get out. Konstantia Dimoglidou, a Greek police spokeswoman, told the AFP news agency that more than 30,000 people have been evacuated across the country so far.

Some tourists said they walked for miles in scorching heat to reach safety. Dead animals have been seen in the road near burnt-out cars.

Holiday company Jet2 has now cancelled five flights to Rhodes, while Tui cancelled all flights there until Wednesday.

The first repatriation flights to take Britons back home are due to arrive on Rhodes. EasyJet will operate two rescue flights with a total of 421 seats on Monday, and a third on Tuesday, in addition to its nine scheduled flights to the island.

Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office says a five-strong rapid deployment team is in Rhodes, along with four Red Cross workers, to assist British nationals and support travel operators in bringing people home.

At least three hotels have been destroyed in the dense forest area of Kiotari on the east of Rhodes.

The deputy mayor of Rhodes, Athanasios Vyrinis, said some people had slept in cardboard boxes overnight and warned that there were not enough essentials.

Greece's fire service has warned the situation could worsen as further villages require evacuation and that the battle to contain the flames could take several days. 260 firefighters, backed by 18 aircraft, were battling the fire on Sunday.

Six people were briefly taken to hospital with respiratory problems and were later released.

Emergency services have also been dealing with fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens and Aigio, southwest of Athens. Homes have already been lost to the wildfires on Rhodes and other areas.

Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires. The world has already warmed by about 1.1C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to carbon emissions.

Spain and Italy are among the Mediterranean countries which have also experienced intense heat this week, while parts of the US are also seeing records broken.

- This story was first published by BBC.

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