© Reuters. Smoke rises from a wildfire on Corfu Island, Greece, July 23, 2023 in this still image obtained from social media video. Julia Dzhyzhevska/via REUTERS
By Fedja Grulovic
RHODES, Greece (Reuters) -Tour operators began flying home holidaymakers as wildfires raged on the Greek island of Rhodes on Monday and officials said the threat of further fires was high in almost every region of the country.
Fires burning since Wednesday on Rhodes forced the evacuation of 19,000 people over the weekend as an inferno reached coastal resorts on the island’s southeast. A wildfire also forced evacuations from the island of Corfu.
Rhodes and Corfu are among Greece’s top destinations for tourists mainly from Britain and Germany.
“We are in the seventh day of the fire and it hasn’t been controlled,” Rhodes Deputy Mayor Konstantinos Taraslias told state broadcaster ERT.
Tourists spent the night on the airport floor, waiting for repatriation flights, the first of which came overnight.
Holiday company TUI’s UK and Ireland arm said it brought three plane loads of passengers back to Britain from Rhodes and had plans to get everyone affected back as soon as possible.
“It was quite a bit of a struggle on the beach with the smoke,” said John Hope, a tourist from Manchester, England.
Austrian tourist Mario Wiese said he had spent two days at Rhodes airport and had had to sort out his own return flight to Germany on Monday evening.
“We have been lying here for two days. There are no blankets, nothing. There are children lying here who need milk,” he said. “I had to organise everything myself because no one looks after us here. I don’t understand it.”
Tour operators Jet2, TUI and Corendon cancelled flights leaving for Rhodes. Britain’s easyJet (LON:) said it was operating two repatriation flights on Monday from Rhodes to London’s Gatwick airport in addition to the nine flights already operating between the island and Gatwick.
The airline said it will add another repatriation flight on Tuesday.
Ryanair said its flights to and from Rhodes were operating as normal. Its Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan said the airline was monitoring the situation on Monday.
“It’s not necessary at this period in time (to put on more flights), we’re letting people book onto earlier flights.”
Evacuations by sea were underway on Corfu, where about 59 people were taken off a beach on Sunday. Footage from the island showed the skyline ablaze from fires in a mountain region.
On Rhodes, some holidaymakers said they walked for miles in scorching heat to reach safety. The fires left blackened trees and dead animals lay in the road near burnt-out cars.
Greece is often hit by wildfires during the summer months but climate change has led to more extreme heatwaves across southern Europe.
Civil Protection said practically every region of Greece was facing the threat of wildfires on Monday ranging from “high, very high or state of alert”.
Temperatures over the past week have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many parts of the country and were forecast to persist in the coming days.
Emergency services were also dealing with fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens, and Aigio, southwest of Athens.