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Thousands flee in Greece's largest-ever wildfire evacuation

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Dozens of wildfires are burning throughout Greece, and one of the largest is on the island of Rhodes. It's forced thousands of locals and tourists to flee. Government officials there say it's the largest wildfire evacuation ever in Greece. And for the latest on what's happening on the islands of Corfu and Rhodes, we turn now to Eleni Varvitsioti, a reporter for the Financial Times who joins us from Athens, Greece. Good morning.

ELENI VARVITSIOTI: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So how many fires are burning right now in Greece, and how many people are being affected?

VARVITSIOTI: Yeah. We have about four major fires which are taking place in different parts of the country, and two of them are in islands which are full of tourists. Right now we are in the high tourist season. One is in Rhodes.

As you mentioned correctly, this week and this past weekend, Greece mounted its largest-ever island evacuation, moved more than 19,000 people to escape wildfires. And most of them were tourists who were moved to safe locations. They were moved to schools, conference stadiums, and many started flying back to their countries. Some of them did not even have travel documents. So there was a makeshift operation at the airport by the foreign ministry and the embassies, which provided travelers with the necessary documents so they could return home.

FADEL: Wow.

VARVITSIOTI: And there was another evacuation in the island of Corfu last night, and about 3,000 people were moved. But that was much more precautionary than what it was in Rhodes. There is help which continues to arrive from the European Union and elsewhere. There are Turkish firefighting planes which are joining the effort in Rhodes. There are helicopters from Egypt.

And I have to tell you that the risk of fire is extreme also for today. We have very high temperatures, and the meteorological service says that it's going to reach 45 degrees Celsius. I don't know - I think it's about 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

FADEL: Wow. So what you're describing is a large-scale disaster - on top of securing locals and making sure they're safe, getting tourists to secure locations and back home without their papers. What about the damage that these fires have caused, and how many people have been hurt?

VARVITSIOTI: The good news are that no one has been hurt...

FADEL: That's good.

VARVITSIOTI: ...Which is amazing. And that's why it's such a big operation that has happened, just to make sure that people will not get hurt, and they have not been hurt. In 2018, in Greece, there was a big fire which ended up taking the lives of 104 people. And since then, I mean, it's such a traumatic experience in the country that, you know, people are much more - taking much more precautionary measures.

Now, in terms of the disaster, it's still too early to say, Leila. Since the fires are still burning, people have not really counted what amount of burned land we're talking about. Of course, the disaster is going to be huge. We had fires since last week also in Attica, in the greater area of Athens. And it's something that happens every year, to be honest. But this year it's simultaneously in so many different fronts. And that's why I think it's very hard for the Greek fire department to deal with it.

FADEL: That's Eleni Varvitsioti joining us from Athens. Thank you so much for your time.

VARVITSIOTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.