Greece 'at war' with wildfires as up to '10,000 British holidaymakers' stuck on Rhodes

The crisis on Rhodes is far from over as more wildfires break out, as John Irvine reports

Greece is 'at war' with the wildfires ravaging several islands as airlines rush to evacuate as many as 10,000 British holidaymakers from Rhodes.

Wildfires on the islands of Corfu, Evia and Rhodes have forced thousands of locals and holidaymakers to flee.

Speaking on Monday Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: "We are at war - completely focused on the fires.

"Over the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert."

Greek authorities said 19,000 people had been evacuated from danger spots in Rhodes, with the Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection adding it was "the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country."

The EU and Turkey have both provided assistance to help with the fires, with 10 helicopters dropping water over the worst-hit area of Rhodes.

While speaking to parliament, Mr Mitsotakis highlighted the threat from climate change saying it "will make its presence ever more felt with greater natural disasters throughout the Mediterranean region."

The location of all of the island wildfires gripping Greece. Credit: ITV News

Several airlines have now begun evacuating customers from Rhodes, which has been the worst-hit by the fires.

Travel firm Tui said on Monday morning holidaymakers have been returning to the UK from the Greek island on “three dedicated flights”.

Around 50 Thomas Cook customers have either been moved to another hotel or flown home, with the travel company saying they no longer had any holidaymakers in evacuation centres.

EasyJet has also dispatched two planes to evacuate customers, on top of its nine scheduled flights to Rhodes planned on Monday.

Jet2 said a repatriation flight, carrying 95 passengers, landed at Leeds Bradford Airport on Sunday evening before another three leave the island later on Monday.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said on Monday it is "peak holiday season," with between 7,000 and 10,000 Britons estimated to be on the island.

Rhodes is visited by about 2.5 million tourists each year and is one of Greece’s most popular holiday destinations.On Monday authorities began evacuating large swathes of the island of Corfu on the other side of Greece after fires broke out there on Sunday.

Firefighters in Corfu claim they have got the fires under control and that arson is the suspected cause of the initial blaze.

Fire services across the country are investigating the causes of the blazes, which raged as 50 new wildfires on average have been breaking out daily for the past twelve days, according to the government.

On Sunday alone, 64 new blazes were recorded.

Three coastguard vessels were evacuating two beaches in Rhodes. Credit: Argyris Mantikos/AP

In Rhodes firefighters are still trying to get the wildfire under control with between 10-20% of the island affected.

Rishi Sunak urged holidaymakers hit by wildfires across Greece to remain in touch with tour operators.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to the West Midlands, the prime minister said: "My paramount priority is the safety of British nationals, that’s why the deputy prime minister chaired a Cobra meeting yesterday, he’s been monitoring the situation closely."

A British Foreign Office spokesman confirmed a Rapid Deployment Team had arrived on Rhodes to support travel operators in bringing Brits home.

The scenes at Rhodes International Airport on Sunday as people tried to get home

The government is not yet recommending people avoid Rhodes saying the fires only impact a "limited area" of the island.

On Saturday, families fled their hotels, leaving their belongings behind, as the huge flames crawled closer. Some had to spend the night in local stadiums and schools.

Several airlines including Tui and Jet2 cancelled flights to Rhodes over the weekend, but other carriers like easyJet and Ryanair have not changed their schedules.

Claire Jones, 36, and her husband Paul, also 36, were evacuated by coach from the Village Rhodes Beach Resort near Lardos.

They were driven to another beach where they were placed on three different boats to escape from the wildfires currently ripping through the Greek island.

“It was really quite traumatic driving to where we went because you could see everyone fleeing their hotels, and people were walking along the beaches, walking along the roads, and they had babies and small children,” Ms Jones said.

Before the coaches arrived, Ms Jones recalled: "When we got to the car park and you could see the fires getting closer and closer and closer, and the coaches weren’t turning up […] that was really worrying. When we first got on the coach, that was the most scary, because I thought, if that wind blows towards us, that fire is going to hit this coach."

Ms Jones added she and her husband are "very lucky" as they managed to flee to Faliraki in the north of the island, where they had planned to stay later in their trip.

Previously the wildfire had been confined to the island’s mountainous centre but, aided by winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions, it spread on Saturday towards the coast on the island’s central-eastern side.

Kevin Evans was evacuated twice with his wife and three young children, including a six-month-old baby, on Saturday as the fire rapidly spread.

He said: “We were originally in Kiotari in a villa but were moved to Gennadi at about 2pm.

“There were lots of people in Gennadi sent from the hotels – many in just swimsuits having been told to leave everything in the hotel.

“As night fell, we could see the fire on the top of the hills in Kiotari. They said all the hotels were on fire.

“About midnight the fire started moving onto our side of the hill. The alerts were going off again but not to everyone at once with some people telling us to stay put and others receiving messages to evacuate.

“We left at midnight with the fire very big and close.”

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