1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Rhodes fire triggers biggest evacuation in Greek history

Published July 22, 2023last updated July 23, 2023

Thousands of people, including tourists, have been moved to temporary shelters due to wildfire on the Greek island of Rhodes. Several tour operators have canceled flights.

Evacuees sit inside a stadium following their evacuation during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes
The wildfire sparked the island's largest ever evacuation with many people moved to sports hallsImage: Argyris Mantikos/Eurokinissi/AP/picture alliance

A wildfire on the Greek Island of Rhodes have sparked the biggest fire evacuation operation ever in the country, authorities said on Sunday.

Thousands of people were relocated as flames threatened homes and hotels — many spent the night on beaches and streets, according to the Reuters news agency.

"This is the biggest fire evacuation ever in Greece," Konstantia Dimoglidou, Greek police spokeswoman said.

"We had to evacuate an area of 30,000 people. Everything thank God went smoothly. Everybody, especially tourists, followed what we ordered," she added. 

Some of the evacuated, including tourists, are being accommodated in other hotels, gyms and a conference center.

Fires force mass evacuations on Greek island Rhodes

The area around the holiday resort of Lindos with its famous 4th Century Acropolis was particularly affected.

Tourists react after being relocated

One German tourist told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that they were "saved from the fire at the last moment" after returning from the beach on Saturday to a deserted hotel.

"We had embers flying around our heads and no help was in sight," said 23-year-old Paul from Bielefeld. "I had the feeling of being on my own, it was so hot and the smoke was already so thick we couldn't have survived another ten minutes."

British holidaymaker Chris Freestone said his tour operator had not put on enough coaches for the 800 people at the hotel he was staying at and guests were sent several times to the beach to wait for boats that didn't arrive.

"The smoke was coming. So we all set off on foot. I walked 12 miles in this heat yesterday. It took me four hours," said Freestone from a sports hall where evacuees were eventually moved to.

Tourists shelter in a sports hall after being evacuated following a wildfire on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 23, 2023
Residents and tourists sheltering in sports halls after being evacuated from hotelsImage: FEDJA GRULOVIC/REUTERS

Another British tourist thanked locals for their generosity, in an interview with Greek television, saying shops had refused payment for water and food and small boats had taken women and children to safety first, before returning for the men.

A French tourist in Lindos said he had watched an increasing frequency of amphibious fire-fighting aircraft in the sky over the past few days.

"Everything is happening very fast, we've been seeing more and more smoke," the tourist, who gave his name only as Hugo, told French television.

Outbound flights to Rhodes canceled  

Tour operators Jet2, TUI and Correndon canceled flights leaving for Rhodes on Sunday.

"Until Tuesday, no more new tourists will be flown" to the island by the German group, TUI spokesperson Linda Jonczyk said, adding that empty planes were still being flown in to help evacuate the thousands of tourists affected.

TUI said its teams were doing everything they could to support customers on the island and had sent in additional staff in what it called "a difficult and evolving situation."

Jet2 wrote on Twitter: "Due to these extraordinary circumstances, we have canceled all flights and holidays that are due to depart to Rhodes up to and including Sunday 30th July."

Smoke rises from a wildfire in Rhodes Island
Greek authorities used boats to evacuate touristsImage: @blairsbrainiacs/REUTERS

Planes, helicopters deployed to fight the blaze

Despite receiving reinforcements, including water bomber planes, firefighters have been struggling to control the blazes on Rhodes. The fire is being fanned by strong winds as the region suffers through a brutal heat wave.

More than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines were operating on the ground, assisted by three planes and five helicopters, fire department spokesperson Artopios said. 

Wildfires rage on Greek island of Rhodes

The team also included reinforcements from Slovakia, Israel, Jordan and Turkey.

The wildfire had initially been confined to the island's mountainous central region, but winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions had helped them spread toward the eastern coast. 

The fire department has warned of a high risk of further fires breaking out on Rhodes, as well as on the island of Evia and the eastern part of the Greek mainland, on Sunday.

The weather remains hot in the Mediterranean country — temperatures had on Sunday already reached 38 C (100 F).

While weather experts predict a brief respite from the heat wave on Monday, they have warned it will likely resume on Tuesday and could last until at least next Friday. 

mm, lo,ara/dj (AP, Reuters, dpa)