Greece evacuates thousands of tourists in Rhodes as wildfire burns

By Duarte Mendonca and Chris Liakos, CNN

CNN  —  A large wildfire tearing through the Greek island of Rhodes has forced thousands of tourists to evacuate their hotels, officials say.

The wildfire in the central and south part of Rhodes has been burning since Tuesday. It is the largest of a number of blazes in Greece, which is sweltering due to a heat wave that experts say is likely to become the country’s longest on record.

Photos on Greek TV showed fires and smoke nearing properties and beaches in Rhodes and videos posted on social media show large groups of tourists evacuating hotels on foot.

At least 12 hotels have been evacuated, officials say.

An estimated 10,000 tourists were safely taken to the northern part of the island on Saturday, according to the Rhodes Hotel Association.

The association said on Greek TV that tourists from 12 hotels were transported by buses, on foot and by sea.

The coastguard told CNN on Saturday that four of its boats had assisted, as well as 20 private vessels.

Local fire officials said boats had evacuated about 2,000 people. They said the number of hotels that were ordered to evacuate account for less than 10% of the island’s total tourist capacity.

Boats were used to take some tourists to safety.

Eight people have been taken to hospital with respiratory problems, according to fire officials.

The blaze is burning near the areas of Kiotari and Lardos, not far from the Lindos archaeological site. The site has not been threatened so far.

Record heat wave predicted

According to the Greek Ministry of Civil Protection, 13 departments, including the Attica region where the capital city of Athens is located, were under red alert for wildfires Sunday, which is the highest state of alarm due to the extreme risk of fire.

In Athens, visiting hours for the Acropolis and other archaeological sites have been revised due to soaring temperatures. Staff at some sites are on strike to protest working conditions.

“We will probably go through 15 to 16 days of a heat wave, which has never happened before in our country,” the Director of Research at the National Observatory of Athens Kostas Lagouvardos told CNN.

People walk next to a mist machine to cool down, in the Monastiraki district of Athens, on Thursda.

He told CNN that the streak could go beyond those days, but at the moment “it’s hard to predict.”

The longest continuous heatwave that Greece has faced was 12 days long, back in July 1987, Lagouvardos said.

Lagouvardos said temperatures in Athens this summer could possibly break the city’s all-time record, which was set in June 2007, when Athens registered 44.8 degrees Celsius (112.64 degrees Fahrenheit).

A tourist cools off with ice cubes at the entrance to the Acropolis in central Athens.

Large parts of the northern hemisphere have seen fierce temperatures, with Europe seeing dramatic shifts from one form of extreme weather to another.

Italy’s northern region of Veneto was pounded with tennis-ball sized hail overnight on Wednesday, injuring at least 110 people. Emergency services responded to more than 500 calls for help due to damage to property and personal injuries, the Veneto regional civil protection said.

The country also experienced record-breaking heat, with capital Rome hitting a new high temperature of 41 degrees Celsius on Tuesday. Earlier in the year the country was hit by devastating floods.

In the Balkans, severe thunderstorms storms claimed several lives after hitting on Wednesday, CNN’s affiliate N1 reported Thursday.

Scientists are warning that the extreme weather may only be a preview of what’s to come as the planet warms.

“The weather extremes will continue to become more intense and our weather patterns could change in ways we yet can’t predict,” said Peter Stott, a science fellow in climate attribution at the UK Met Office told CNN.

CNN’s Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.

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