Fire causes mass evacuations from Greek resorts

Saturday, July 26th 2008, 7:43 am
By: News 9

ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- Greek police on Friday evacuated more than 2,000 European vacationers from a strip of holiday resorts on Rhodes as fierce forest fires swept through the Greek island and thick plumes of smoke choked its most popular hotels.

Authorities said the evacuation was a precaution as fires raged for a fourth day, scorching at least 7,400 acres of lush pine forest on one of the country's most idyllic islands.

Police said the evacuation affected hotels in the Asklipios area, near the southeast coastline of Rhodes, a popular holiday destination for British tourists.

"Three hotels were evacuated as a precaution, mainly because smoke from the fire had created an unpleasant atmosphere," said Charlambos Kokkinos, regional governor for the southern Aegean.

The officials declared southern Rhodes in a state of emergency earlier this week when the fires broke out and quickly swept through the island because of gale force winds.

Dozens of homes were destroyed in Laerma, the worst hit region, state media reported. No injuries or fatalities were reported. France and Italy have sent five water-bombers to assist hundreds of Greek firefighters and volunteers trying to extinguish the blazes.

Earlier in the day, a brush fire in southern Greece forced authorities to evacuate two camping sites near the town of Aegion and close a main highway linking Athens to the port city of Patras.

Rail services in the area were also suspended, resuming three hours later when firefighters got the blaze under control. Closer to the capital of Athens, five water-dropping planes quickly tackled another fire in Mandra, west of Athens.

More than 100 fires have burned in Greece since the start of the summer, and the latest infernos sparked as an ombudsman's report criticized the government for not doing enough to prevent such outbreaks.

"The main measures for fire protection are not being properly implemented," the report said.

More than 65 people were killed in devastating fires last year and 444,790 acres of the Greek countryside was charred.

"The lesson of last year's tragic experience does not seem to have been fully learned," the ombudsman report said.