Greece: Rhodes wildfire forces thousands to flee
Some 30,000 people were moved to safety. Artopios said that all the visitors had been safely evacuated from the hotels and rented homes
Thousands of people were evacuated on Saturday from homes and hotels on the Greek Island of Rhodes, authorities said.
A large wildfire that has been raging for five days forced several people to flee several of the island's coastal villages and beaches.
Three coast guard vessels, an army lifeboat and 30 private sailboats helped to evacuate at least 2,000 people, including tourists, fire department spokesperson Yannis Artopios said.
Some 30,000 people were moved to safety. Artopios said that all the visitors had been safely evacuated from the hotels and rented homes.
Smoke 'so strong you can hardly breathe'
On Saturday, authorities said the forest fires had gotten out of control earlier in the day near the village of Laerma.
"It is the most difficult fire we have to fight," the Greek fire department said.
The state radio reported that two villages and several hotels were evacuated due to the smoke from Laerma village.
"The smoke formation is so strong that you can hardly breathe," Konstantinos Traraslias, deputy mayor of Rhodes, told Athens news channel Skai.
Planes, helicopters deployed to fight the blaze
Despite receiving reinforcements, including water bomber planes, firefighters have been struggling to control the blaze. 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.
The team also included reinforcements from Slovakia. Israel, Jordan and Turkey have also reportedly sent reinforcements.
The wildfire had initially been confined to the island's mountainous central region, but winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions had helped it spread towards the eastern coast.
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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.
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.