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Greece: Thousands evacuated from Corfu as wildfires rage

Published July 24, 2023last updated July 24, 2023

Authorities have evacuated some 2,500 people from the Greek island of Corfu as fires ravage the island. This comes after tens of thousands fled the island of Rhodes in an unprecedented operation amid a massive heat wave.

A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire burns near the village of Archangelos, on the island of Rhodes
Crews have been battling extensive wildfires on the Greek islands of Corfu and Rhodes, prompting large-scale evacuationsImage: Nicolas Economou/REUTERS

Greek authorities brought nearly 2,500 people on the Greek island of Corfu to safety on Monday as forest fires blazed during a major heat wave.

The evacuation took place as firefighting crews across Greece worked to contain 82 wildfires, including 64 that began on Sunday, which has been the hottest day in the country so far this year.   

Temperatures in Greece in the past week have gone over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in many regions, with more hot weather forecast for the coming days.

Wildfires in Greece

Huge evacuation operations

The operation on Corfu comes after some 19,000 people were evacuated from several locations on the island of Rhodes in what was described by police as the biggest fire evacuation ever in Greece.

A spokesman for the fire department on Corfu, Yannis Artopios, told the AFP news agency that fires were ablaze in the north of the island.

He said 2,466 people had been evacuated between Sunday and Monday, but no houses or hotels had been destroyed so far.

Rhodes and Corfu are among Greece's top tourist destinations and are particularly popular with visitors from Britain and Germany.

The German government said Monday it would hold a crisis meeting to discuss how to help German holiday makers on Rhodes.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the meeting would allow the German government to "coordinate with our colleagues on the ground and then decide on possible further measures."

 An Interior Ministry spokesperson said that German federal police and firefighters were already helping Greek authorities transport people back to the mainland.

More regions on Rhodes were evacuated on Monday amid the ongoing blazes.

High fire danger

A wildfire was also reported on the island of Evia, the north of which was devastated by blazes in August 2021. Residents in four southern villages were told to evacuate. 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Monday that his country was "at war" with the wildfires and blamed climate change for the extreme nature of the disasters.

"Over the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert," he said in remarks in a parliamentary debate broadcast on state radio.

Mitsotakis thanked people involved in recent firefighting efforts and attributed the lack of casualties to the efforts of emergency services.

Greece is highly prone to deadly forest fires in the summer months.

However, scientists say that climate change driven by human-made greenhouse gas pollution is contributing to heat and drought in many southern European countries, creating tinderbox conditions.

tj/fb (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

Fires force mass evacuations on Greek island Rhodes