'Don't stop, just run!' British holidaymaker's terrifying tale of running from Rhodes wildfires

24 July 2023, 07:42

'Run, Run, Run': Holidaymaker tells of terrifying evacuation from Greek island

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A British holidaymaker has told LBC of her terrifying flight from the Rhodes wildfires which caused her family to run across four beaches in a bid to outrun the flames.

Extreme heat has triggered a number of fires across the region, with the countryside on the island burning for the past five days.

The Greek government says 19,000 people have been evacuated - 16,000 by land and 3,000 by sea - in what it describes as the "largest ever" wildfire evacuation in Greece's history.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast British holidaymaker Narrissa Sketchley described the harrowing tale of her evacuation from fire-ravaged Rhodes.

She told LBC on Thursday evening "white ash started dropping on us" which was her first indicator of a problem.

"We could see these big, thick, black clouds coming over, the water helicopters were over us."

She told Nick when she called her local holiday rep she was told to "stay put."

Revealing her horrifying tale, Narrissa said her family could no longer stay outside as the smoke was too thick.

"We asked the hotel reception what to do and they told us to stay put, we waited and waited until we got a text from the government."

She said this message told holidaymakers to feel the area she was in, but her family was unsure where the area they were supposed to flee to was.

"There was no one there to tell us or advise us."

She told Nick "next thing we know there is someone there shouting 'go, go, go' and we ran out of the hotel door and just to the left of us there were red hot flames."

Narrissa said she was told to take her family and flee to the beach.

"We got to the first beach and sat on sunbeds, but there were thick black clouds and ash coming down."

"As soon as we sat on the sunbed we were told not to and told 'run, run, run," Narissa recounted her horror at having to run over "four or five beaches" but with little direction from officials.

"The fire was following us as we ran from beach to beach," Narrissa told LBC.

Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell will join Nick Ferrari at Breakfast this morning to explain evacuation plans - Listen Live on Global Player from 07:50.

Resorts evacuated as blaze rages out of control on Greek island of Rhodes

The conversation comes as the first repatriation flights arrive on fire-ravaged Rhodes to rescue British holidaymakers stuck in a "living nightmare".

Airline easyJet will operate two rescue flights totalling 421 seats on Monday and a third on Tuesday, in addition to its nine scheduled flights to the Greek island.

It comes after authorities began evacuating large swathes of the island of Corfu, which is also popular with British holidaymakers, after fires spread there on Sunday.

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

Some flights out of Rhodes were delayed on Sunday night, including an easyJet flight due to arrive in Gatwick at 9pm which touched down at 11.30pm after stopping for a crew change in Milan.

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

Some flight operators, including Tui, continued sending tourists to the island as late as Saturday night, with one customer complaining they had been "abandoned" there.

On Sunday, Tui suspended its flights to Rhodes until Tuesday, while Jet2 Holidays cancelled its trips until next Sunday.

However, easyJet has maintained a regular service along with fellow budget airline Ryanair, prompting criticism from consumers.

A spokeswoman for easyJet said it was doing "all it can" to help customers in Rhodes and invited those due to travel to or from the island until Saturday to change the date for free.

Helen Tonks, a mother of six from Cheshire, said she was flown into a "living nightmare" by Tui at 11pm on Saturday and discovered her hotel had been closed.

She said she and her family were "abandoned" and forced to sleep with hundreds of others on a school floor.

Ms Tonks described the decision by airlines to continue their usual service as "inexcusable and negligent - (putting) profit before safety".

Holidays and flights to Greek island ravaged by fire cancelled

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.

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

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 on to 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."

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

In an update on Sunday, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "We are actively monitoring the fires in Rhodes and are in close contact with local authorities.

"The FCDO has deployed a Rapid Deployment Team (RDT) of five FCDO staff and four British Red Cross responders to Rhodes to support British nationals whose safety is our top priority. They will be based at Rhodes International Airport to assist with travel documents and liaise with Greek authorities and travel operators on the ground.

"British nationals in Rhodes should contact their travel operator in the first instance for any queries regarding the rescheduling of flights and continue to check our updated gov.uk travel advice for information."

A Tui spokeswoman said the firm's "main priority" was the safety of customers and its staff were doing "all they can" to help those affected by the fires.

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