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Rhodes Wildfires Are ‘like a Biblical Catastrophe’

The young woman stares at a charred beach umbrella lying in the sand and sighs.

“For the tourists, it was a really terrifying and bad experience, but for us, it’s worse because we live here. Everything is burned.”

Edisa, aged 19, who lives in Lindos with her parents on the south-east coast of Rhodes, was caught up in the wildfires that have ravaged the Greek island.

The family, who all work in the many hotels here, were forced to flee their home along with thousands of holidaymakers over the weekend.

We came across them as they sheltered from the searing heat under an awning on Glystra beach. Small yellow birds tweeted noisily from their cage as Edisa talked; family pets which they had carried to safety.

Just a few days ago, tourists soaked up the sun and splashed about in the glittering blue water here. Now all that is left are the smouldering remains of what looked like a café and the burnt-out skeleton of a local tourism business.

Edisa had just been told their house had survived undamaged, but fires rage on nearby and much of the area is badly damaged. She fears for her future here.

“It’s going to take a lot of years to be repaired and I don’t think tourists will want to come back after all this,” she says.

Strong winds carried the pungent smell of smoke across the beach as a tanned man in reflective sunglasses came to view the wreck of his water sports hire company.

Takis Mitropoulos was resigned, but optimistic.

“We lost the business. But we have good health and we hope to fix it again. If we are in good health, we can fix everything.”

But then he took a phone call and rushed off. The fire was spreading again. Everyone here is on high alert, ready for the moment the wind shifts it in their direction.

It is all having a terrible impact on the local community, explained Kyriakos Sarikas, the marketing manager for H Hotels collection which has six properties on Rhodes.

Our footsteps echoed as we stepped across the vast cool lobby of one hotel. All the guests were evacuated over the weekend. But, he added, many local workers have had to flee their homes too. As we spoke, the authorities announced the evacuation of several other villages.

“It’s like a biblical catastrophe,” he says.

The hotel itself was undamaged and with the fires still raging, it was still too early to fully assess the scale of destruction, but he’s horrified by the burnt-out landscapes around the area.

“We need to have a plan going out of this crisis to restore the whole area. The hotel is a hotel – you can rebuild it, you can repaint it – but the nature outside is the most important thing, because all this is a result of the environmental crisis that we are facing.”

As we drove back north, thick smoke obscured the wooded hillsides to the west and fire engines clustered at the roadside. People who had been evacuated from the village of Malona had gathered, one with a pair of binoculars, to watch as firefighters battled to keep the flames from destroying their homes and their livelihoods.

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