'I wake up smelling burning': Honeymoon couple tell of nightmare escape from burning island of Rhodes

26 July 2023, 07:29

Ailsa and Ross Graham's honeymoon was cut short by the fires on Rhodes
Ailsa and Ross Graham's honeymoon was cut short by the fires on Rhodes. Picture: LBC
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

A newlywed couple who spent two days fleeing the Rhodes wildfires have told LBC of their terrifying ordeal, as they feared they wouldn't make it off the island alive.

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Ailsa and Ross Graham, from Hawick, Scotland, were among thousands of Brits who fled their hotels on Saturday (22nd July), after receiving an evacuation alert from Greek authorities.

The couple were halfway through their honeymoon when smoke began to engulf their hotel, turning the swimming pool black.

Ailsa told LBC: "We packed what we could in to our suitcase and headed towards the coast. Within seconds, we were met by thousands of other people just scrambling down this road with no idea where to go or what to do.

"We just had to keep running - we couldn't stop. We were just following the road, we just had to make sure we were in front of the fire.

Read more: 'It's like a nightmare': Wildfires break out in Sicily as flights cancelled and airport shuts after temperatures hit 47C

Read more: Two pilots confirmed dead after plane nose-dived to ground in fireball crash while fighting Greek wildfires

Ailsa and Ross on their wedding day
Ailsa and Ross on their wedding day. Picture: LBC

"Every time we turned around it was getting closer, it was really awful."

Ailsa said they had contacted their families to let them know what was happening, as the couple feared for their lives.

She said: "At one point we just thought, there's no way out of this, there's no way we can outrun this. It was just coming so thick and fast."

"We realised it had been two hours and we were still going, we were still running. At one point we did take a lift from a local because we didn't think we were going to be fast enough for the fire."

The couple were forced to flee their hotel after smoke engulfed it, turning the swimming pool black
The couple were forced to flee their hotel after smoke engulfed it, turning the swimming pool black. Picture: LBC

"We were burning, we were sweating, it was 40 degrees plus."

Ailsa and Ross eventually managed to cram on to a bus that was heading to the airport, but people were left behind.

"We keep reminding ourselves of how extremely lucky we are, because it wasn't everybody.

"We were driving past people who were still making their way down the coast, it was horrible to see. It was awful. There were families with young kids, there was elderly people there. It felt like a movie. It just didn't feel real."

They took refuge on a beach before eventually managing to reach the airport by bus
They took refuge on a beach before eventually managing to reach the airport by bus. Picture: LBC

But when they got to the airport, they couldn't find a flight with available seats. They spent two nights in a hotel near to the airport, and stayed in a room with a couple they did not know, because there weren't enough bedrooms available.

Ailsa claims some one-way flights on Saturday 22nd July were priced at as much as £2,000 per person.

"We would have given anything, but that was just unrealistic. We didn't know if the fire was going to be contained or continue to spread, we didn't know if these flights were going to be cancelled.

"You didn't know what situation you were going to be in from hour to hour, let alone the next day."

The couple say they have not had any communication with their holiday operator, TUI, who "weren't accepting calls".

Alisa said: "If they did accept your call they were saying they couldn't hear us and the line was breaking up, they were hanging up on us. They've never been in touch with us - we've tried to communicate with them a few times and had nothing in return.

"We'd been sent a link about registering for rescue flights, which we registered for I think on Sunday. We had an email as we landed home [on Tuesday] to say that we would be on a flight with them on Wednesday, but our original flight was on Tuesday, so it was even later than we were meant to get home.

The couple landed safely back in the UK on Tuesday morning.

Ailsa said the ordeal will stay with her for the rest of her life. She said: "I don't think I've slept since that first night. I wake up smelling burning, obviously in a dream. I keep waking up, sitting up and checking whether I can hear the sirens. It's constantly in the back of our minds."

In a statement on Sunday, TUI said: "The wildfires in the south-eastern parts of Rhodes have led to the evacuation of masses of holidaymakers in the past 24 hours, and our teams on the island are doing everything they can to provide assistance to TUI guests.

"Over 300 reps, drivers and service colleagues and doing their utmost to help where they can, working alongside the amazing local community and emergency services.

"We appreciate how distressing and difficult this situation is for customers who have been evacuated and ask that they follow the advice of the local authorities who are managing tourist movements in impacted areas and make contact with the TUI reps who are present in all evacuation centres.

"We’ll continue to work with the relevant authorities to do all we can to support and are working on plans to get customers home."

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