Boatlift Operation Evacuates 3,000 People Fleeing Fires on Rhodes

Rhodes fire
Courtesy EU Civil Protection

Published Jul 23, 2023 11:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, the Hellenic Coast Guard organized a massive boatlift to evacuate coastal areas on the southeast side of Rhodes, where raging wildfires threaten life and property. An estimated 30 good samaritan boats aided the coast guard in evacuating tourists and residents, saving about 2-3,000 people. 

The effort was focused on a stretch of coastline between Kiotari and Pefkoi (left, shaded in gray, courtesy Civil Protection Greece). It was one element of an operation to move thousands of residents and tourists It is believed to be the largest mass evacuation in modern Greek history.

Fires broke out in forested interior areas last week, and they have spread along a north-south swath that almost bisects the island. Winds have been aiding the expansion, and the blaze has reached the water near Lardos. 

The timing could not be worse. Rhodes is a major tourist destination and welcomes more than two million visitors per year. July is peak season, and first responders had to evacuate thousands of tourists in addition to local residents. As of Sunday, an estimated 19,000 people have been relocated by the authorities, including those who departed by boatlift. 

According to Athens News Agency, three ferries have arrived at the Port of Rhodes and moored alongside the pier in order to provide emergency housing for evacuees. Airlines are dispatching empty flights to Rhodes in order to fly out stranded holiday-goers. 

So far, no fatalities have been reported. Nine people with respiratory problems have been provided with first aid, and one person sustained a fracture in a fall while evacuating a hotel. 

For firefighters and emergency responders who remain behind, the situation on the ground is challenging. Temperatures are expected to exceed 110 degrees F, ideal conditions for boosting a forest fire, and the power has gone out on the south side of the island. The focus for the response is  on preventing the blaze from damaging key infrastructure in the south and spreading to the densely wooded areas to the northeast.