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Fires force tourists from Greek island of Rhodes

Friday, July 25, 2008

ATHENS, Greece —  Raging forest fires sent smoke billowing into hotels on the island of Rhodes, prompting the evacuation of more than 2,000 tourists, the Fire Service and municipal officials said.

Authorities said the measure was taken as a precaution and affected hotels in the Asklipios area, near the southeast coast of the island popular with British and other European vacationers.

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

"The evacuation was orderly and there were no problems. The tourists were taken to the nearby coast and will remain there until the smoke clears. Conditions have already improved and it's likely that the tourists will return to their hotels by nightfall."

Over the last four days the fire has destroyed thousands of acres (hectares) of dense pine forest, helped by strong winds, and came within a few yards (meters) of village homes in the center of the island, Fire Service officials said.

France, Italy and Cyprus have sent firefighting aircraft to help tackle the Rhodes fire.

Also Friday, a blaze in southern Greece prompted authorities to close a busy highway linking Athens to the western port of Patras for several hours. Rail services in the area were also interrupted.

Three planes and three helicopters were battling a fire at Mandra, west of Athens, which did not pose any immediate threat to homes, Fire Service officials said.

More than 70 people were killed in devastating fires last year.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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