The Rhodes wildfire nightmare has become the largest fire evacuation in Greek history, as 19,000 people have been forced to flee villages and hotels.
Holiday companies TUI and Jet2 have canceled all flights to Rhodes as the popular holiday destination has been hit by bushfires, forcing thousands of tourists to flee.
Greece has issued warnings about “extreme fire risks” in the areas of Attica, Evia, Boeotia, Corinthia, Ilia, Argolis, Messinia and Rhodes.
But some firefighters believe the fires engulfing the island, which started five days ago, may have been started on purpose, saying “the fires are started by human hands.”
Vassilis Vathrakogiannis of the Rhodes Fire Department said Mirror: ‘The fires are caused by human hands.
Flames rise during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece, as the nightmare of the forest fire has escalated into the largest evacuation in Greek history.
Tourists take refuge in a sports complex after being evacuated after a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece.
A satellite image shows the devastation caused by wildfires on the charred Greek island.
‘If it is due to negligence or fraud, it will be seen (but) people have been summoned for statements and others will be summoned.
“As soon as we have complete information, since the investigation is in full swing, we will make announcements.”
People have been crammed into makeshift evacuation centers with no water, food or showers as horrific bushfires continue.
Others have been forced to watch in horror as their houses caught fire.
The Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was “the largest evacuation due to a forest fire in the country.”
So far, the total number of people evacuated or redirected due to the fires has reached 19,000, according to the Greek government.
And the problem may get worse as high winds are expected amid 45°C heat, making it difficult for firefighters to tackle the blaze.
An almost empty flight to Rhodes. Easyjet and Ryanair still allow Brits to travel to fire-ravaged island
People sleep on the ground at the airport and in evacuation centers as they flee the fires.
Tourists play cards as they wait in the airport departure lounge as evacuations take place due to forest fires, on the Greek island of Rhodes.
Tourists wait in the departure lounge of the airport while evacuations take place due to the forest fires.
Tourists take refuge in a stadium after being evacuated after a forest fire on the island of Rhodes.
Tourists wanting to get off the island are desperately heading to its airport, and empty flights are sent to get the British out.
Of that number, 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3,000 by sea.
A spokesperson told Sky News: “It has been the biggest evacuation in history.” [In Greece] in a fire with coordinated mobilization of all resources.’
As resorts have reportedly been engulfed in flames, sports halls, schools and hotels far from the worst fires have turned into shelter centers.
Thousands of tourists have been forced to camp out on futons and cushions on sun loungers in corridors with no air conditioning and even outdoors in the scorching heat.
Members of the coast guard, the armed forces and local authority workers used dozens of buses to help move people away from the fires, said Teris Hatziioannou, a Rhodes municipal official.
Newlywed Andrew Brittan, 27, and his wife Emily, flew from Birmingham to Rhodes yesterday for their honeymoon, little knowing it would turn out to be a holiday from hell.
“I spent the first night of my honeymoon on a mattress outside,” she told MailOnline from a packed shelter centre.
Generous locals have been donating mattresses, water, fruit and snacks to terrified stranded tourists.
As holiday providers scramble to get Brits off the fire-ravaged island, Jet2 says: “We ask customers in affected areas to follow the advice of local authorities, or their hoteliers, who will act on the advice of the authorities.”
Britons crammed into a hotel far from the fires have been forced to sleep on cushions on sun loungers outside as they flee the fires.
Smoke billows into the sky as bushfires head towards the Princess Sun Hotel in Rhodes.
“Those due for travel will receive a full refund and the opportunity to rebook,” the company says.
“We will fly those five aircraft to Rhodes with no customers on board, so we can bring customers back to the UK on their scheduled flight.”
Easyjet said in a statement: ‘We are currently operating as normal at Rhodes, however we continue to closely monitor the situation. We recommend customers traveling to and from Rhodes to check the status of their flights on Flight Tracker.
‘Easyjet is currently working to comply with requests from local authorities and is in contact with guests at the resort to support them. The safety and well-being of our customers and crew is our top priority.”
They added that any client who has booked to travel to or from the island until July 29 can transfer for free to another date or can request a flight voucher.
TUI spokeswoman Linda Jonczyk told AFP: “Until Tuesday, no more new tourists will fly,” adding that empty planes were still being sent to help evacuate the thousands of tourists affected.
Will tourists from Rhodes receive compensation?
Consumer charity Which one? he has said it would be “inconceivable” for airlines not to reimburse tourists who choose not to fly to fire-ravaged Rhodes.
The comments of Which? Travel editor Rory Boland came after easyJet confirmed it was operating flights to the Greek island as normal, while travel companies Jet2 and Tui suspended their trips and refunded their customers.
He encouraged more airlines to be ‘flexible’ in case customers decide not to travel due to the six-day fire.
Boland said: “Those who must go to Rhodes now are likely not to want to go, and given the emergency operations that are taking place on the island, the local authorities could probably do without the arrival of more tourists.”
“While there is no official Foreign Office advice against travel to Rhodes, it would be inconceivable for holiday companies to take advantage of travelers’ sensible decision not to travel by not refunding or rebooking.”
Meanwhile, an expert warned that tourists whose vacations are cut short by the fire or those who choose not to travel are “unlikely” to be covered by their travel insurance.
Louise Clark, policy adviser to the Association of British Insurers, said: “Travel insurance is mainly to protect you against the incredibly high costs of needing emergency medical treatment abroad, but it is unlikely to provide cover if you are unable to leave during your holiday due to a bushfire.
“The main purpose of travel insurance is to cover the costs of emergency medical treatment or repatriation in the event of the worst, which can be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“It may cover you if you need to cancel or shorten your holiday, but this is likely only in limited circumstances, for example if you or a close family member fall ill, not because you are unwilling to travel.”
Ms Clark added that some insurers provide ‘add-ons’ available to customers at the time they purchase their policy that protect against natural disasters.