ATHENS (dpa-AFX) - Emergency forces in constant use, evacuated tourists and canceled flights to the vacation island of Rhodes: Greece continued to fight the consequences of severe forest fires on Monday. In the southeast of Rhodes, a major fire remained out of control despite massive deployment of Losch aircraft and helicopters. About half of the 19,000 people who had to leave their hotels on Rhodes on Saturday were estimated to have either left or returned to hotels by Monday. Other countries in the Mediterranean region also continued to battle heat and drought.

Fire on Rhodes - special flights for tourists

On Rhodes, Losch planes and helicopters tried to contain the fires in the southeast of the island. Losch planes from Turkey and helicopters from Egypt were there to reinforce the Greeks in action. Again and again, strong winds fanned the flames, according to a spokesman for the fire department. Tourists were not in danger, however, because they had already been brought to safety in the north of the island on Saturday. According to estimates, about 9500 people were still housed in halls and schools or taken in by private individuals on Monday.

The Foreign Office is supporting German holidaymakers on Rhodes with staff on the ground and is in contact with Greek authorities and German tour operators, as a spokeswoman said in Berlin on Monday. The German government's crisis team was to meet in the afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said the federal police were helping tourists return to Germany. German firefighters who had been on the scene had since returned, she said. "We are ready for further assistance."

Some major German tour operators canceled further trips to Rhodes. DER Touristik extended at the beginning of the week the period in which the company will not offer trips to the endangered areas. Canceled would be now all journeys into the south of Rhodes up to and including arrival on Saturday (29 July). The same applies to stays in hotels that are located on the Greek island of Corfu in the official warning zone. Tour operator FTI canceled all trips to Rhodes up to and including Wednesday (July 26). Tui reported Monday no new status compared to Sunday. The travel company will not bring tourists to the vacation island up to and including Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the focus is on the return of tourists to Germany. The German Travel Association (DRV) announced on Monday: "The tour operators have today, tomorrow and Wednesday numerous special flights in operation to bring the travelers affected by the evacuations back home." According to the statement, tour operators are using chartered planes and also using vacant seats on regular flights. Some guests are also being taken by ferry to Athens or Turkey to travel home from there, it said.

Fire danger remains high in Greece - cooling Thursday

Fires are also burning in other parts of Greece. Firefighters battled flames in dozens of regions across the country on Monday. The fire danger remained extremely high. This applied to the region of Greater Athens, the Peloponnese peninsula and many islands of the Aegean Sea. It will remain so in the coming days, warned the Greek Civil Defense on Monday. The worst fires raged on Monday next to Rhodes on the island of Euboa.

On the resort island of Corfu in the northwest of the country, a forest fire was brought under control on Monday. During the night, the authorities had precautionary brought about 1000 tourists and about 1500 locals from the region around the popular resort of Nisaki to safety. The danger is now over and people should gradually return to their hotels, the local state radio station reported Monday.

People are eagerly awaiting next Thursday. Temperatures are then expected to drop from 40 to 45 degrees for the first time in almost two weeks to around 35, which is normal for the time of year.

Heat and drought also in other Mediterranean countries

Other countries in the Mediterranean region also continue to groan under heat and drought. In Turkey, for example, temperatures on the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea are up to eight degrees above the normal value for this time of year, according to the weather service. On Wednesday, temperatures of up to 42 degrees are expected there. Meanwhile, a new forest fire broke out in the southern Turkish province of Mugla after emergency forces brought another fire under control shortly before. It has not rained in the region for weeks, so forest fires can spread more quickly in the dry vegetation.

In Spain and Portugal, the risk of forest fires is also extremely high due to the long drought in large parts of the two countries. The intense heat also causes the vegetation to dry out even more, leading to fires that in some cases spread almost explosively. At present, however, there has been only one active forest fire in Spain, according to the Environment Ministry in Madrid. It had broken out on Sunday evening in the area of Villanueva de la Vera in the province of Cáceres. So far, the flames could not be brought under control and had already destroyed about 100 hectares. There were no reports of major fires from Portugal. After a hot weekend with temperatures up to 40 degrees in the south of Spain, people could look forward to a slight "cooling" in the coming days with daily highs between 25 and 35 degrees.

In Italy, too, the risk of forest and vegetation fires is increasing in some places due to drought. In the region of Calabria, there have already been several fires in recent days. In the province of Cosenza, firefighters were still in action on Monday. In northwestern Sicily, too, emergency forces were fighting individual fires.

Forest fires are also threatening in France. According to the weather service Météo France, the risk of forest fires in the southeastern department of Bouches-du-Rhône, where Marseille and Aix-en-Provence are located, for example, is very high on Tuesday.

The fires and climate change

Greek Gov. Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday thanked all the people who helped with the firefighting efforts in Greece in recent days. "We are at war (in terms of fires)," Mitsotakis said during a parliamentary debate broadcast by state radio. This state of affairs is due to climate change, he added.

Extreme heat waves, floods and droughts are becoming more frequent because of climate change. Already, the Earth has heated up by about 1.1 degrees compared to pre-industrial times, and in Germany it is as much as 1.6 degrees. According to research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the fatal consequences will be more and longer heat waves and droughts, or more frequent floods and hurricanes, depending on the region./tt/DP/nas