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Where wildfires have spread on the island and if it’s safe to travel to Greece

Wildfires continued to burn across Greece on Monday, with the islands of Rhodes and Corfu – both popular tourist spots – worst affected.

Fires burning since Wednesday forced 19,000 people to be evacuated from homes and tourist accommodation on Rhodes over the weekend, as a blaze reached resorts on the island’s south-eastern coast.

British tourists camped out overnight in schools and sports halls, as well as the island’s airport, after being forced to leave hotels that became engulfed by the wildfires.

Foreign Office minister, Andrew Mitchell, said his “best estimate” of the number of British tourists on Rhodes currently is “between 7,000 and 10,000”.

Tour operators Jet2, Tui and Corendon cancelled flights leaving for Rhodes. EasyJet said on Sunday it was operating two repatriation flights on Monday from Rhodes to London’s Gatwick, in addition to the nine flights that are already planned. The airline said it will add another repatriation flight on Tuesday.

“We are in the seventh day of the fire and it hasn’t been controlled,” Rhodes’ deputy mayor, Konstantinos Taraslias, told state broadcaster ERT.

Where are the wildfires on Rhodes?

The two largest wildfires are near the villages of Eleousa and Laerma, both of which are towards the centre of the island.

At least three hotels in the seaside village of Kiotari on the south coast have been affected, as have the popular resorts of Kalathos and Pefki.

Rhodes wildfire map (Photo: i)

One British tourist, Ian Wakefield, told Times Radio he spent the night in a school playground in Faliraki after being moved from his hotel in Pefki.

“It didn’t really feel real – being in imminent danger of being burned to death,” he said. “Between midnight and around 5am 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.”

Another British tourist, 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.

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

“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.”

Is it safe to travel to Rhodes?

The UK Government is not advising people against travelling to Rhodes, despite the fires.

Mr Mitchell said: “It’s important to remember that only 10 per cent of the island is affected by these fires. And therefore it is the tourist companies and the holiday experts who are best placed to give guidance on whether or not a family or individuals’ holidays are going to be ruined by these events.

“What we’re telling people to do is to keep in touch with their tourist company, and that is the right advice.”

A spokesperson 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 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 travel advice for information.”

TOPSHOT - Tourists wait in the airport's departure hall as evacuations are underway due to wildfires, on the Greek island of Rhodes on July 23, 2023. Locals and tourists fled hotspots on Rhodes, as firefighters battled a blaze that had sparked the country's largest-ever fire evacuation. Firefighters were bracing for high winds that have been forecast for the afternoon and that could hamper their efforts. (Photo by Will VASSILOPOULOS / AFP) (Photo by WILL VASSILOPOULOS/AFP via Getty Images)
Tourists wait in the airport’s departure hall as evacuations are under way due to wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes (Photo: Getty)

Greece is often hit by wildfires during the summer months but climate change has led to more extreme heatwaves across southern Europe.

Temperatures over the past week have exceeded 40ºC in many parts of the country and are forecast to persist in the coming days.

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

A spokesperson 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.

A Tui spokesperson 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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