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Briton escapes ‘scene from Dante’s Inferno’ thanks to helicopter water-bombing wildfire area

Britons stranded on the Greek holiday island of Rhodes have described their dramatic escapes from the wildfires.

One tourist told how he escaped a “scene from Dante’s Inferno” thanks to a helicopter dropping water to create a path through a blaze.

Duncan Kemp was waiting for evacuation coaches to arrive at Lindian Village hotel, in Rhodes Bay, when the fire “jumped the road and began to burn in front of reception”.

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There were “uncontrollable scenes as people scrambled to get on coaches – kids screaming and crying and parents much the same,” he told Sky News.

One of the numerous helicopters tackling more than 80 fires across Greece dropped water on the wildfire to create a safe path out, he said.

But there were not enough spaces on the coaches.

More on Rhodes Wildfires

Instead, the hotel’s “brave” staff took Mr Kemp and other travellers in their own cars to safety.

Pic: Duncan Kemp
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Pic: Duncan Kemp


Pic: Duncan Kemp
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Pic: Duncan Kemp


Describing the approaching wildfire, Mr Kemp said: “In scenes not out of place in Dante’s Inferno, the sky turned dark, the sun was blotted out and turned blood red, and it became obvious that something was not right.”

He continued: “We just want to get home now. We feel that we have been left to our own devices with no help. Don’t know whether our luggage will find us but just want to get away from this chaos.”

Dante’s Inferno, a poem written more than 600 years ago by Dante Alighieri, takes the reader on an intense journey through the darkest pits of hell.

Pic: Duncan Kemp
Image:
Pic: Duncan Kemp

Pic: Duncan Kemp
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Pic: Duncan Kemp

Meanwhile, Damien and Karen Townsend have made it home to the UK from Rhodes – but not before a call so close they thought they “were dead”.

The couple, from Devon, found a fire brigade had formed a perimeter around their hotel on the first morning of their holiday, Saturday, before “all the smoke, all of a sudden, turned orange”, said Mr Townsend.

“Everything was orange. Ash started dropping all over us. You couldn’t breathe because the smoke was so thick,” he said.

“I grabbed my wife and kids and we started running… we didn’t even know what direction to run in.”

The couple and their sons, Theo, 11, and Barnaby, 10, made it several kilometres along a beach before they turned to see “the flame racing towards us coming down the mountain,” said Mr Townsend.

“It was roaring towards us and at that point I thought ‘we’re dead’. We’re not going to get out of this. It was coming so fast and the flames were half the size of a house – like 12ft. We were just terrified.”

Pic: Damien Townsend
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Pic: Damien Townsend

He said they ran as fast as they could amid the screams of other tourists trying to outpace the wildfire.

Mr Townsend said helicopters and planes appeared overhead: “As we were running they were dropping water behind us… it felt like only a few hundred metres away.”

The next few hours were a blur – taking refuge in another hotel and getting a lift in a “beaten up van” to an evacuation centre, before local buses took them to Rhodes International Airport.

Their package holiday company, Mr Townsend said, was nowhere to be seen.

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The family spent €600 on some of the last seats on a flight out of Rhodes to Bristol in the early hours of Sunday morning.

“I felt so relieved but almost guilty that we had got out and there are so many other people out there who are going to be going through this terrible thing we’ve gone through for even longer.”

Meanwhile, a newly-wed couple celebrating their honeymoon on Rhodes have spoken about their “traumatic” experience of being evacuated from their hotel.

Read more:
Flights to evacuate hundreds of Britons from Rhodes
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Claire and Paul Jones, both 36 from Leicestershire, were evacuated from the Village Rhodes Beach Resort in Lindian Village, near Lardos, as the wildfire approached the hotel.

“By the time we got our stuff and got to reception, which was probably another 10 minutes, everybody was at reception and you could see the fires,” Mrs Jones said.

“They had come over the hill, they were halfway down the hill, and everybody was just panicking.”

Mrs Jones has said she and her husband were “very lucky” as managed to flee via a taxi to Faliraki in the north of the island.

“I keep thinking of little things, like there was a little girl on the bus screaming to her mum, ‘I don’t want to die’.

“The kids were petrified because they could see the fire, it wasn’t a nice situation.

“We had to drive through two or three fires on either side of the road, there was no way out, we had to drive through them.

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Family ‘wade through sea’ to escape fires

“It was really quite traumatic driving to where we went because you could see everyone fleeing their hotels, and people were walking along the beaches, walking along the roads, and they had babies and small children.”

Mrs Jones said at one point they were taken on a speedboat to a larger boat in the direction of Lindos on the island, before “boat hopping” onto two more boats.

“We had to boat hop in the middle of the sea, which was not very pleasant.

“We had to do that three times, [once] in pitch-black dark and you could see the fire.”

Another family claimed they have been left £10,000 out of pocket after their holiday was cancelled due to wildfires.

Chris Elworthy, 42, a farmer from Faversham in Kent, was supposed to fly with easyJet to Rhodes on Saturday with his wife Emma, 43, and children, Thomas, 13, and Charlotte, 11, to reach a private villa in Pefkos.

Undated handout photo issued by Chris Elworthy of himself with his wife Emma and two children, Thomas, 13 and Charlotte, 11, as they have been left £10,000 out of pocket after their family holiday to Greece was ruined by the ongoing wildfires. Mr Elworthy and his family had to disembark their initial flight to Rhodes while still on the tarmac at Gatwick Airport, after news spread wildfires were raging on the Greek island. Issue date: Monday July 24, 2023.
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Chris Elworthy, his wife Emma and two children, Thomas, 13 and Charlotte, 11

The family were on the plane at Gatwick Airport when news broke of the wildfire in Rhodes and their flight was suddenly cancelled.

However, the former Royal Engineers officer said easyJet is not “helping at all” with a voucher or another flight and the villa is refusing to provide a refund.

“We are now £10,000 out of pocket; easyJet is not helping at all with a flight, despite having promised on Twitter that they would provide a voucher or another flight… 24 hours later they have done nothing.”

“The villa is refusing to refund us, and the holiday insurance is saying that we’re not covered because we didn’t have the additional natural disaster cover on top of the ordinary cover.”

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said up to 10,000 British tourists are on Rhodes as wildfires sweep across parts of the island.

Mr Mitchell made the remarks as travel firm Tui said it had returned some holidaymakers to the UK from Rhodes on “three dedicated flights”.

More repatriation flights are due to arrive back in the UK on Monday as part of efforts to get hundreds of stranded British holidaymakers off the island.

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Europe correspondent Siobhan Robbins reports from Rhodes

It comes as sea evacuations have begun from a beach in Corfu to transport individuals fleeing wildfires on the Greek island.

The evacuation involved six coast guard vessels and nine private vessels, with around 59 people evacuated from Nissaki beach on the northwest coast, the coast guard said.

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