Rhodes is a vacation destination known for its beach resorts
Nearly 20,000 people have been evacuated from a Greek island as wildfires continue raging for the sixth day.
Travel agencies in Europe have canceled flights to Rhodes as of Sunday as thousands of residents and vacationers flee the island to avoid the wildfires. Police on the island said 16,000 people were evacuated by land and another 3,000 by boats from 12 villages and a handful of hotels.
The vast majority of those evacuated are vacationers, according to local authorities and witnesses. Rhodes is a vacation destination known for its beach resorts and historical landmarks such as the Acropolis of Rhodes.
“There were lots of people in Gennadi sent from the hotels – many in just swimsuits having been told to leave everything in the hotel,” British tourist Kevin Evans told U.K. outlet 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.”
One Belgian tourist said he evacuated Saturday by foot and has nowhere to go, according to The Guardian.
“We told the hotel about the messages we had received on our phones to evacuate the area, but they didn’t even know about it,” tourist Cedric Guisset told public radio station RTBF. “We really just took our identity cards, water and something to cover our faces and heads.”
A Greek fire brigade spokesperson said the evacuation is the largest the country has carried out.
“It is the biggest operation to safely transport residents and tourists that has ever been carried out in our country,” said Greek fire brigade spokesperson Ioannis Artopios, according to The Guardian.
A hotel manager in Lardos, a village on the island of Rhodes, said he had to evacuate roughly 400 people – mostly vacationers from France and Italy – from the hotel this weekend.
“Fortunately, no one here was hurt,” hotel manager Juri Viesi said, according to The Guardian. “The situation is very saddening not just because of the tourism aspect but because the island has burned. The area was very beautiful, very green, with many animals. I hate to think what has happened. It is black, reduced to ash. That is so sad. It’s not about losing one or two weeks’ tourism; it’s about the impact on people’s lives.”
Europe is in the midst of a heatwave, with fires breaking out across Greece, including on the island of Evia and in the Peloponnese region. The Rhodes fires sparked on Tuesday and have grown as high winds fan the flames, according to Reuters.
The island of Rhodes reached a high of 96 degrees Farenheit on Sunday and is expected to see temperatures in the mid to low 90s for the rest of this week.
Firefighters from nations across Europe have been deployed to Greece to assist with containing the flames.
“Over 450 firefighters and seven airplanes from the EU have been operating in Greece as fires sprout across the country,” EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic tweeted early Sunday afternoon.