Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes have forced thousands of holidaymakers to flee their hotels.
Images show the skies above the island full of smoke with the orange hue of the flames clearly visible.
Four locations close to the areas of Kiotari and Lardos in the southeastern part of the island have been evacuated with at least 2,000 people having already left the island.
Users on social media have been describing the scene, with Paul Karlburgi writing on Twitter: “Currently stranded in #Rhodes escaping the wildfires on foot – left everything at the hotel and fled with towels across our faces.
“My youngest just told me he doesn’t want to die. No news from any authorities. Terrifying situation here.”
The flames have reached three hotels, which have also been evacuated, according to local media reports.
Fire service spokesman Yannis Artopios said more than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines were operating on the ground, assisted by three planes and five helicopters.
The force includes 31 firefighters from Slovakia, with five fire engines.
Three coastguard vessels, plus one from the army, were evacuating people from two beaches on Saturday.
More than 20 private boats were also assisting and the Greek navy was sending a vessel.
Mr Artopios added the residents of four localities were sent SMS messages to evacuate – in two of these areas they were told to move to the northeast and, in two others, to the southwest.
Wildfires have been plaguing Greece for days as a result of the heatwave ongoing across southern Europe.
James Hall, who is holidaying on the island, told Sky News: “It was a bit of madness this morning. We got the government text telling us to evacuate then we dragged our suitcases for two hours in 40C heat.
“After the two-hour walk, we took refuge in a hotel. If we see any fire on a nearby hilltop we’ll have to evacuate again.
“We were meant to be picked up from our hotel at 7am but that seems to have burned down.
“We’ve heard nothing from our airline.
“If you were in a wheelchair the chances of you getting out in a timely manner were pretty much nil.
“There was very little help.”
Another tourist, David Woodhouse, said fires are spreading and smoke is encompassing much of the island.
Freelance TV producer Daphne Tolis added: “More than 1,000 people evacuated by sea so far on #Rhodes as the #wildfire is raging.
“The coastguard has ordered nearby yachts and private boats to assist evacuation operations by sea.”
While holidaymaker Jon Hughes tweeted: “Jet2 where are you? No help, contact or guidance. Had to walk 4 mile in the heat across dirt tracks in smoke and ash with a 5 year old. No possessions #jet2 #rhodes #lindosimperial.”
‘Concerned’ airlines react to ‘fast-moving situation’
British Airways said in a statement it was “very concerned” and had been in touch with its customers on the island to “check they’re safe and provide assistance”.
The airline added: “Customers currently in Rhodes who need to come home early can change their return flight free of charge, and anyone due to travel out from the UK in the next week can change their flight to a later date. We’ll of course keep the situation under review.”
Holiday company Jet2 also released a statement, saying: “We are aware of the fast-moving situation in Rhodes, and our in-resort teams are working tirelessly to comply with the guidance of local authorities.
“The health, safety and well-being of our customers will always be our number one priority and we ask any customers in affected areas to follow the advice of the local authorities, as well as their hoteliers, who will be acting under the advice of the authorities.
“In addition to our in-resort team, we have a dedicated team set up in the UK who are working hard to ensure we can do everything we can for customers, including sending direct communications to keep them updated.”
A spokesperson from the airline TUI said: “We’re aware of wildfires in an area in the south of Rhodes and our teams in resort are following advice from the local authorities.
“A small number of hotels have been impacted and as a precaution we’re relocating affected customers and providing them with alternative accommodation.
“Flights continue to operate as normal and we will be in contact with customers should their holidays be impacted. Our main priority is always the safety of our customers and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on the situation.”
Easyjet also released a statement saying the airline was “aware of the wildfires currently affecting Rhodes and its thoughts are with those affected”.
The statement added: “Flights to and from Rhodes are currently operating as normal however we continue to closely monitor the situation and the advice provided by the relevant authorities.
“Whilst our schedule is not affected and will operate as planned, we advise customers travelling to and from Rhodes to check the status of their flights on Flight Tracker on our mobile app or website.”
Fires could continue and spread – with more areas at risk
The blaze in Rhodes was just one of several active across Greece, the fire service said.
Fires northwest of Athens and near Sparta were subsiding, its spokesman said.
But the conditions, including temperatures set to reach 45C on Sunday and low humidity (below 15%), mean that the danger is not over and more wildfires might break out.
The fire service has designated almost the whole eastern part of the mainland, plus the islands of Evia and Rhodes, as well as large parts of the southwest, as Category 5 – the highest for the risk of fire outbreaks – on Sunday.
A further chunk of the country has been designated Category 4.
There will be a brief respite in the heatwave on Monday, but it will resume on Tuesday and could last until at least Friday, meteorologists have warned.
Firefighting forces from eight European Union countries are either operating or due to arrive soon, the fire service added.
Israel, Jordan and Turkey have also sent reinforcements, mostly in the form of aerial equipment.