top of page

Wildfires in Greece Force Mass Evacuations, Strand Tourists

Relentless wildfires in Greece are forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate from the islands of Rhodes and Corfu — and leaving many tourists stranded at airports and makeshift shelters.

The country is one of many in Europe that's been battling a heat wave since mid-July, with temperatures on some islands climbing above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Scores of wildfires have broken out across Greece in the past week, stoked by dry conditions and possibly arson, as some Corfu officials have claimed.

Greek firefighters are still working to contain the blazes, with help from several other countries. But they face an uphill battle, as Greece's weather service says temperatures are likely to flare up again on Tuesday for several days.

Huge plumes of smoke rose into the atmosphere over Rhodes | DPA via Alamy
Huge plumes of smoke rose into the atmosphere over Rhodes | DPA via Alamy

Wildfires in Rhodes

The largest evacuation took place on Rhodes, where some 19,000 people fled over the weekend in what Greek authorities called "the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country."

Citing local police, The Associated Press reports that 16,000 people were evacuated from Rhodes by land and 3,000 by sea from 12 villages and several hotels. Six people were treated at a hospital for respiratory problems.

Fire in Corfu: Rescues by boats from the fire fronts
Fire in Corfu: Rescues by boats from the fire fronts

Wildfires in Corfu

Corfu became the second island to launch major evacuations, after authorities said at least 2,400 visitors and locals were evacuated from Corfu overnight on Sunday as a precaution.

At airports, there have been scenes of chaos and long queues, as tourists wait to be flown out. | Image source, Nicolas Economou via Reuters
At airports, there have been scenes of chaos and long queues, as tourists wait to be flown out. | Image source, Nicolas Economou via Reuters

Tourists

The fires struck during peak tourist season in Greece. And while visitors flock to the islands from all over the world, Corfu and Rhodes are especially popular with people from the United Kingdom.

There are currently between 7,000 and 10,000 British tourists on Rhodes, U.K. Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell said on Monday.

Many of them are still trying to get out of the country, both in terms of getting to the airport and getting a flight home.

Response

Crews are working to contain major blazes, not just on those islands but on Evia and the Peloponnesian peninsula as well.

They're getting help from the European Union and beyond.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Twitter that:

Greece has gotten three firefighting helicopters from Egypt, two planes and a helicopter from Turkey, four helicopters from Jordan, and two air tractors from Israel.

France, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Malta are among the countries deploying not only equipment but hundreds of firefighters, collectively. The situation is still developing, and it's unclear how long the fires will continue to burn. But it's clear that they have had a devastating impact on the people of Greece, both locals and tourists.

The government has urged people to remain "on constant alert" in the days and weeks ahead, as climate change is likely to make these kinds of natural disasters more common in the future.

bottom of page