What Greek wildfires mean for holidays as airlines cancel flights and 19,000 rescued

British families stranded as wildfires rip through Rhodes - Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reports

Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes have seen 19,000 people evacuated, just as thousands of others had been hoping to spend summer holidays there.

Greece's Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was "the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country".

Some 16,000 were evacuated by land and 3,000 by sea, according to local officials.

No casualties have yet been reported, although six people were briefly hospitalised with respiratory problems, but Britons hoping to holiday there in the coming days are likely to be disappointed.

Holiday firms cancel flights

Jet2 Holidays cancelled all flights to the island until July 30 and said it would send empty planes to bring stranded Britons home.

Tui said it would cancel all flights and holidays until Tuesday.

Thomas Cook later announced it had cancelled all holidays to Kiotari and Lardos – the areas of the island most at risk – until July 31 and would be in touch with customers to arrange “swift refunds”.

It has also offered full refunds to customers due to depart for other parts of the island on Sunday and Monday who wish to cancel their trip.

EasyJet has cancelled package holidays departing up to and including Tuesday and will operate two repatriation flights on Monday and a third on Tuesday to bring British holidaymakers back to London Gatwick Airport.

Flights by Ryanair and British Airways are currently running as normal.

Travel expert Simon Calder explains the situation for stranded families and hopeful holidaymakers

UK rushes to help British holidaymakers

The British ambassador to Greece said the Foreign Office had sent a “rapid deployment team” to help UK tourists who were among thousands forced to flee for their lives on Saturday as the wildfire spread.

Families were evacuated from their hotels at night and left their belongings behind as the huge flames crawled closer, with some having to walk miles to find refuge or wade through water to reach rescue boats near the beach.

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.

The six-day blaze continued to rage on Sunday after the fire service warned more fires could break out with temperatures set to reach 45C.

Stranded family with six-month old baby evacuated twice

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.

The family is now stranded in Rhodes town without accommodation and “no information from the authorities”.

Mr Evans told the PA news agency: “We’ve got three children with us including a six-month old so getting a bit panicky.

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

Kevin Evans could see the flames spreading over the hills from his hotel in Gennadi Credit: Kevin Evans/PA

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

“It got very crowded but we managed to get into a hotel in Gennadi with a room for the children and mums while the rest of us slept in the lobby.

“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. The roads were closed but we drove the long way round the island to get to Rhodes Town.”

'Scariest moment in my life': teacher and two sons rescued by fishing trawler

Dan Jones, a sports teacher from Torquay, Devon, had to climb onto a fishing trawler with his sons on Saturday night, describing it as “the scariest moment in my entire life”, adding: “What brave boys.”

Ian Wakefield told Times Radio he spent the night in a school playground in Faliraki after being evacuated from his hotel in Pefki.

He said: “It didn’t really feel real – being in imminent danger of being burned to death.

“Between midnight and around 5am this morning we were going through an evacuation which was pretty chaotic.

“There were a lot of upset people and children who were understandably quite hysterical.

“It was all very confusing – the instructions from the hotel manager were unclear.

“You had to make your own choice in the end. I’ve had to leave quite a lot of luggage in the hotel.”

A wildfire in Rhodes is burning for a sixth day Credit: Argyris Mantikos/AP

In an update on Twitter, Jet2Travel said: “The situation in Rhodes continues to evolve quickly and our absolute priority is the health, safety and well-being of customers and colleagues.

“Due to these extraordinary circumstances, we have cancelled all flights and holidays that are due to depart to Rhodes up to and including Sunday July 30.

“We will fly those aircrafts to Rhodes with no customers onboard, so that we can bring customers back to the UK on their scheduled flight.”

Tui said: “The situation in the Southern part of #Rhodes remains volatile and challenging. Due to this and considering the impact on local communities being affected, TUI has decided to cancel all flights and booked holidays to Rhodes for departures up to and incl. Tue, 25 July.”

British ambassador Matthew Lodge tweeted: “Since the #wildfires situation deteriorated yesterday @ukingreece has been working with the Greek authorities, airlines and tour operators to support UK nationals on #Rhodes. A rapid deployment team from @FCDOGovUK is on its way.”

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