Wildfires are still raging across Greece, after more than a week of chaos that has seen thousands displaced in tourist hotspots and emergency action close to the capital, Athens.
New evacuations were ordered overnight on the islands of Corfu, Evia and Rhodes, where thousands of tourists were moved to safety over the weekend.
Authorities said the charred remains of a missing farmer were found in southern Evia — a discovery made following the death of two Greek firefighting pilots, who were killed in a crash during a low-altitude water drop.
The heatwave in Greece has pushed temperatures back above 40°C in some areas, while strong winds hampered firefighting efforts.
How long can wildfires last?
There is no set time for a fire to burn, especially in natural environments where they can spread across vast areas, fuelled by strong winds.
In Canada, for instance, this year’s record-breaking wildfires have been raging since early June, more than a month after they first broke out.
In Greece, there have been numerous different fires on both the Greek mainland and several islands over the past few weeks. While the initial cause of some of the fires may differ, scientists agree that long periods of dry, extreme heat make fires more likely and create the perfect conditions for them to spread.
As well as making it more difficult to get fires under control, this means there will be an elevated risk of new fires breaking out during extreme heatwaves, which can last weeks or months.
“In the face of what the entire planet is facing, especially the Mediterranean which is a climate change hotspot, there is no magical defence mechanism,” Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, warned on Tuesday – adding that Greece was expecting “more difficult days” ahead in a “war against the fires”.
Weather forecasters continue to project high temperatures for Greece in the days ahead as a result of the high-pressure Charon weather system over the Mediterranean, with temperatures of 40°C still possible this week.
But Paul Hutcheon, deputy chief meteorologist at the Met Office, said that temperatures may have now reached their “peak” and could be back to normal by Saturday.
The Met Office said that low pressure is filtering in “fresher air from the north-west” – bringing a risk of “thunderstorms and large hail to some areas” as the warm and cooler air meets.
However, an advisory from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warned that extreme heat could continue on into August.
A weaker Atlantic jet stream risks creating “near-stationary weather patterns” that “lead to prolonged heatwaves and drought in some regions and heavy precipitation in others,” said Alvaro Silva, an expert with the WMO climate services division said.
When will it be safe to travel to Rhodes?
Parts of Greece are facing likely days or weeks of serious disruption in the aftermath of the evacuations, with some areas badly hit by fires requiring repairs to infrastructure. A state of emergency is still in effect covering all of Rhodes.
However, as a tourist-reliant economy, those in areas not yet impacted by wildfires are keen to welcome travellers as soon as possible – rather than miss out on the lucrative summer travel season.
The official advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) states: “If you are due to travel to an area that might be affected by wildfires, contact your travel operator or accommodation provider before you travel to check that it is not currently impacted. Make sure you have appropriate insurance.”
But travel companies, airlines and travel insurance providers have taken differing decisions on the fires – with some rebooking holidays free of charge, while others have insisted flights should go ahead.
Travel operator Tui has cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes until Friday (28 July), but said on Wednesday that it intends to restart travel to the north of Rhodes – where the fires have not spread – from Saturday.
For customers in the fire-hit south of the island, however, trips departing up until 11 August can cancel for a full refund – while trips between 12 August and 21 August can be amended fee-free.
Jet2, meanwhile, intends to resume travel to northern Rhodes from 31 July – though trips to Gennadi, Kiotari and Lachania have been cancelled up until 13 August.
Ryanair, meanwhile said it was still operating a “full schedule” of flights “operating as normal and unaffected by the forest fires”.
Those not due to travel yet have been urged not to cancel their trips yet, with consumer champions suggesting people should make a decision in the days before departure.
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “As wildfires continue in Rhodes and other parts of Europe, thousands of holidaymakers due to fly in the next few weeks will be anxious about whether to travel.
“It’s essential, however, that travellers don’t cancel their trips, especially those not due to travel for the next week or two. Travellers who cancel now will likely forfeit the right to a refund or rebooking, and as the FCDO has not warned against travel to the affected regions, are unlikely to be able to claim on their travel insurance.
“Instead, they should wait until closer to the departure date to see if the holiday can go ahead or what flexible booking options are offered from the tour operator or airline.”