RHODES, Greece (AP) — A weeklong wildfire on the Greek island of Rhodes tore past defenses Monday, forcing more evacuations, as three major fires raged elsewhere in the country fueled by strong winds and successive heat waves.
The latest evacuations were ordered in south Rhodes after 19,000 people, mostly tourists, were moved in buses and boats over the weekend out of the path of the fire that reached several coastal areas from nearby mountains.
Help continued to arrive from the European Union and elsewhere, with Turkish firefighting planes joining the effort in Rhodes, where eight water-dropping planes and 10 helicopters buzzed over flames up to five meters (16 feet) tall despite low visibility.
“The risk of fire will be extreme in several areas of Greece today,” Fire Service spokesperson Vassilis Vathrakogiannis said a day after temperatures on the southern Greek mainland soared as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
Overnight, evacuations were also ordered on the western island of Corfu, where more than 2,000 people including tourists were moved to safety, on the island of Evia and in a mountainous area in the southern Peloponnese region.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen contacted Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis late Sunday to offer additional assistance.
“I called (Prime Minister) Mitsotakis to express our full support for Greece, which is confronted with devastating forest fires and a heavy heat wave due to climate change,” she wrote in a tweet.
On Rhodes, officials from the Greek Foreign Ministry were working at the international airport with several embassies and diplomats who traveled from the U.K. to assist tourists who had lost their travel documents.
British tourist Kevin Evans was evacuated twice Saturday with his wife and three young children — first from Kiotari to Gennadi, and then as the fire approached to the island’s capital in the northeast, he told Britain’s PA news agency.
“There were lots of people in Gennadi sent from the hotels — many in just swimsuits having been told to leave everything in the hotel,” he told PA. “As night fell, we could see the fire on the top of the hills in Kiotari. They said all the hotels were on fire.”
The army was also helping to set up temporary accommodations on Rhodes, where schools and sporting facilities were opened to help with the effort.
A relative respite from the heat on Monday, with highs of 38 C (100 F) forecast, is to be followed by yet more high temperatures starting Tuesday.
However, it should get significantly cooler on Thursday, with temperatures in the low- to mid-30s Celsius, the country’s Meteorological Service said Sunday evening. ___ Gatopoulos reported from Athens.