Rhodes fires leave 30,000 Britons in holiday limbo as thousands evacuated across Greek islands

25 July 2023, 00:33

Some 30,000 Brits will be left in holiday limbo as a result of the wildfires.
Some 30,000 Brits will be left in holiday limbo as a result of the wildfires. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Jenny Medlicott

Some 30,000 Brits are to be left in holiday limbo as temperatures soar and wildfires continue to ravage multiple Greek islands, forcing airlines to cancel flights.

Thousands are believed to be stranded on the Greek island of Rhodes as wildfires continue, leaving many with no choice but to flee the flames on foot or sleep on mattresses outside and in refuge centres.

But as temperatures are predicted to rise as high as 45C in parts of Greece, some 30,000 Brits have been left in the lurch due to the flight cancellations, leaving them in limbo over their travel plans.

TUI and Jet2 have cancelled flights to the Greek island, but a number of airlines are still running flights - despite warnings that a number of hotels have been closed due to the blazes.

Taking off from Gatwick Airport, one EasyJet pilot warned passengers ahead of departure: “Travelling to Rhodes for a holiday at the moment is a terrible idea.”

On Monday the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, declared “war” on the wildfires spreading across the island – but he warned of more “difficult days” to come.

“Do not be fooled. It will be a difficult summer,” he said.

Read more: TUI cancels all flights to Rhodes until Friday as holidaymakers tell of five-mile hike to safety as 44C heat imminent

Read more: Greece holiday chaos as Foreign Office doesn't alter travel advice - as Rhodes wildfire inferno visible from space

Evacuees have been forced to sleep on mattresses outside and in refuge centres.
Evacuees have been forced to sleep on mattresses outside and in refuge centres. Picture: Alamy

Some 19,000 people were evacuated from Rhodes on Sunday as temperatures climbed close to 40C.

On Monday, travel company TUI canceled all flights to Rhodes until Friday 28 July, while Jet2 also said on Sunday it had cancelled all flights to Rhodes until Sunday July 30 and will be operating repatriation flights for its UK customers.

Evacuation operatons also started in Corfu and Evia over the weekend, as up to 10,000 British tourists were estimated to be on the former.

Crete is the latest to be issued with an extreme risk warning for fires, as temperatures are expected to hit 41C on Tuesday.

But some Brits have slammed tour operators who allowed or are still allowing trips to the affected islands to go ahead.

One mum, Jane Allen, 49, said she was allowed to take her flight to Rhodes on Saturday, and told The Sun: “We landed in Rhodesto utter chaos and were told our villa had been evacuated.

“They knew what we were flying into, how serious it was. How could they?”

While Mark Tonks, 57, said: “Why the hell were we allowed to take off when they knew what was unfolding?”

Families visiting the Greek island have revealed the horrors of being trapped in Rhodes, as many say they have been left no choice but to sleep rough on mattresses outside while others have been forced to flee from the inferno on foot as the flames continue to ravage their surroundings.

Announcing the flight cancellations on Monday, a spokesman for TUI said: "We have cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Friday 28 July, and have also cancelled all outbound flights for customers travelling to impacted hotels up to and including on Sunday 30th July.

"All customers due to travel on these flights will receive full refunds."

Read more: Europe tourists told to make 'extreme heat plans' as wildfires rage in Greece and nine French regions issue alerts

Read more: 'They knew it was a burning island': Caller furious at airline for letting her travel to Rhodes

The wildfires have ravaged Rhodes.
The wildfires have ravaged Rhodes. Picture: Getty

Mother Abi James, who was with her husband, two young sons and friends, said they had been told to stay put when the flames broke out nearby, but were eventually forced to flee on foot and walk around five miles to escape the fire as it spread and temperatures soared to 42C, she told the MailOnline.

Amy Leyden, a British tourist, said she didn't think she, her partner and two-year-old child were going to survive their ordeal in Rhodes.

They were rescued from their hotel by police before it collapsed. "We just had to keep running and then the fire was getting closer and it was getting harder to breathe," she said.

They were picked up by a local man, who drove them to the beach, where they found an "awful" sight, she told Sky News.

TUI also said on Monday it is working with its staff to help repatriate its customers, as the travel company flew out six planes the same day to bring families stuck on the island back to the UK as well as residents from other countries affected.

"Our colleagues continue to work around the clock to support the affected guests,” Thomas Ellerbeck, a member of TUI's Group Executive Committee said.

“During the night we have also sent six available aircraft from our fleet directly to Rhodes to pick up guests and fly them back to their home countries."

Families have told of being forced to flee the flames on foot.
Families have told of being forced to flee the flames on foot. Picture: Alamy

It comes after Downing Street was forced to defend its decision not to discourage Brits from travelling to the country earlier on Monday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged people affected by the wildfires to try to stay in touch with their holiday operator.

The PM 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.

"The most important thing is people remain in touch with their tour operators, there are lots of flights going back and forth to be able to bring people home, and if people are in touch with their tour operators they will get the information that they need."

Repatriation flights are being carried out to return Brits to the UK.
Repatriation flights are being carried out to return Brits to the UK. Picture: Alamy

Greece said its evacuation mission is the largest in its history.

Blazes have already seen hundreds evacuated in the Athens area, where fires are still raging to the west of the capital, and on Evia and Corfu.

Holidaymakers are taken away on boats and over land and put into temporary accommodation elsewhere, some without food or water.

Satellite imagery issued today by Copernicus EU - the Earth monitoring service from the European Union Space Programme, shows the devastation caused by the fires on Rhodes.

Up to 10,000 Britons are estimated to be on Rhodes, with repatriation flights to rescue holidaymakers now landing back in the UK.