Greece Is on Fire, Forcing Its Largest-Ever Evacuation From Flames

Blazes on three popular vacation islands have led thousands of people to flee the area amid a massive heat wave

two people face flames
Flames reach the Greek village of Gennadi, where residents stand on roofs to try to save their homes with water hoses. Christoph Reichwein / picture alliance via Getty Images

Greece conducted its largest-ever wildfire evacuation last weekend as flames rip through the popular vacation island of Rhodes. The 541-square-mile island has been burning since last week, and the blaze has forced at least 30,000 people to flee

“The south side of the island has burnt to the ground, houses have been burnt, business have been burnt,” Rhodes restaurant owner Georgia Apolakiatis tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Georgie Hewson. “People didn’t know where to go. We had babies crying, people fainting.”

But Rhodes is not the only place that’s burning—crews have been fighting more than 500 fires across Greece in the past 12 days, says Vassilis Kikilias, the country’s minister for climate crisis and civil protection, per CBS News. Two other islands, Evia and Corfu, also broke out in flames this week, prompting more evacuations.

Thousands of tourists took shelter in schools, gyms, airports and conference centers until they could evacuate by plane or boat. About 90 percent of those evacuated from Rhodes were from Europe, Stelios Kotiadis, a travel agent for the island, tells the Associated Press (AP). Several travel companies operated extra flights from Greece to bring people home. 

The European Union has sent over more than 500 firefighters, 100 vehicles and seven planes to help with the fight, per CBS News. On Tuesday, two pilots died after their plane crashed while fighting fires on the island of Evia.

Greece: wildfires rage on three islands and mainland

Greece—along with other countries worldwide—is in the midst of a deadly heat wave that has increased the risk of wildfires. A team of international researchers reported that the recent heat in North America and southern Europe would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, reports Nathan Rott for NPR. Over the weekend, temperatures hit 113 degrees Fahrenheit in the interior plains of central Greece and 110 degrees in Athens, per the AP. The heat is expected to continue through this week, and experts predict it will be the longest heat wave in the country’s history. 

“According to the data, we will probably go through 16 to 17 days of a heatwave, which has never happened before in our country,” Kostas Lagouvardos, director of research at the National Observatory of Athens, tells ERT television, per the Greek Reporter’s Tasos Kokkinidis.

Wildfires are also tearing through Algeria, where they have killed at least 34 people, report Fedja Grulovic and Lamine Chikhi for Reuters. The extreme heat has sparked fires in Croatia, Italy and Tunisia. Greece’s largest island, Crete, has been put on high alert, with an “extreme” risk of fire.

“For the next few weeks, we must be on constant alert. We are at war, we will rebuild what we lost, we will compensate those who were hurt,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the country’s parliament, per Reuters’ Fedja Grulovic. “The climate crisis is already here; it will manifest itself everywhere in the Mediterranean with greater disasters.”

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