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'We are at war': Greek PM orders new evacuations as high winds and heat fuel wildfires

German tourists together with local residents try to extinguish a fire, near the seaside resort of Lindos, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes, southeastern Greece, on Monday.
German tourists together with local residents try to extinguish a fire, near the seaside resort of Lindos, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes, southeastern Greece, on Monday. Copyright Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By David Mac DougallJoshua Askew with AP, AFP
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A week-old wildfire on the Greek resort island of Rhodes tore past defenses Monday, forcing more evacuations as strong winds and successive heat waves that left scrubland and forests tinder-dry fueled three major fires raging elsewhere in Greece.

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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. It was the country's biggest evacuation effort in recent years.

“We are at war - completely focused on the fires,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a debate in parliament. “Over the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert.”

Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
A man uses towel over his face as he tries to extinguish a fire, near the seaside resort of Lindos, on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes, southeastern Greece, on Monday, July 24Petros Giannakouris/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Help continued to arrive from the European Union and elsewhere, with firefighting planes from neighbouring Turkey joining the effort on Rhodes, where 10 water-dropping planes and 10 helicopters buzzed over flames up to five metres tall despite low visibility.

Temperatures reached the low 40s Celsius in parts of the Greek mainland Monday, a day after soaring as high as 45 degrees.

Evacuations were also ordered overnight on the western island of Corfu, where more than 2,000 people were moved to safety by land and sea, as well as on the island of Evia and in a mountainous area in the southern Peloponnese region.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that she contacted the prime minister late Sunday to offer additional assistance as Greece "is confronted with devastating forest fires and a heavy heat wave due to climate change.”

In Greece, an average of 50 new wildfires have broken out daily for the past 12 days, according to government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis. On Sunday, 64 new blazes were recorded.

Authorities said no serious injuries were reported, but hospitals and health volunteers provided first aid to tourists and others, mostly for the effects of heat and dehydration.

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