Rhodes fires: Tourists honor locals as wildfires continue to burn

Feuerwehrleute in Rhodes

Visitors from Northern Ireland have praised the residents of Rhodes, a Greek island, for their efforts in the face of evacuation due to wildfires.

Strong winds have been fanning fires on the island for almost a week, and the ongoing heatwave has caused temperatures to rise above 40C (104F).

According to officials, about 19,000 people have so far been relocated out of the way of the wildfires.

The most recent islands to issue evacuation orders due to fires are Corfu and Evia.

In addition to sleeping at the airport, sports arenas, conference centers, and public streets, tourists who were evacuated from hotels in Rhodes have been doing so as well.

Bridget and Robert Davidson
For their first vacation in four years, Bridget and Robert Davidson took a trip to Rhodes.

Bridget and Robert Davidson, a couple from Bangor who were taken to safety on Saturday, have come back to their hotel in Kiotari to retrieve their belongings.

They were informed they couldn't stay there, so they were left in limbo.

Mrs. Davidson praised the locals for their assistance during the weekend's evacuation efforts despite their holiday horrors.

"Taxi drivers, bus drivers, and everyone else helped the vacationers. They've been unbelievable, to be honest," she told BBC News NI.

As some tourists waited on a boat to take them off the island, Mrs. Davidson criticized their "embarrassing" behavior.

In the early hours of Sunday, she described pushing, shoving, screaming, and fighting.

She continued, "All these people wanted to do was help us.".

The evacuation of their hotel by Stuart Johnston and his partner from Lisburn was also praised as "unbelievable" by Stuart.

The locals spent hours bringing in cases of water, fruit, and food in their cars and scooters starting at first light, he claimed.

It appeared as though their island was on fire and we were not a priority. ".

Stuart Johnston on Zoom
Later this week, Stuart said he would board his intended flight from Rhodes.

Mr. Johnston has returned to his hotel, where he feels secure, and he has made plans to board his flight on Wednesday as scheduled.

On the island, "you can't go too many places without seeing the flames and fire," he continued.

Josh Booth, from Belfast, and his girlfriend were vacationing in Rhodes for a week when they received a text from EasyJet telling them to gather their essentials before leaving.

He described the "panic" as families were divided as tourists were transported by buses to a school in the island's north.

A text from EasyJet alerting tourists that a bus will be departing in 5 minutes from their hotel
Customers of EasyJet received this text alerting them to the evacuation plan.

Mr. Booth described how kind locals encouraged evacuees to "bunker down" by giving them fruit and water.

Although the situation has since calmed down, he has now returned to his original hotel and claimed that the couple's suitcases were packed just in case.

Baroness Foster, a former leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), called the Rhodesians "wonderful." She had just returned from the island on Sunday.

Connie Woods, 18, from Newry, claimed she and her boyfriend had been on Rhodes for about three nights when they got a call from the government telling them they had to leave the area.

Then, she continued, "a hotel staff member came by and instructed us to leave our rooms with an overnight bag.".

We were all told to travel to the beach in the dark and to walk along the beach to the bus pickup location while we were waiting outside the hotel lobby for an answer. ".

Connie Woods
Connie Woods was forced to leave her hotel and has been slumbering in a school ever since.

They were transported by bus to a school outside of town.

We had to make do with the few school tables and chairs that were provided, according to Ms. Woods.

"I am so grateful to the Greek community here. They were donating food, pillows, and inflatables for us to sleep on; last night's sleeping conditions were much better.

But the restroom conditions were so unhygienic. There is only one set of functional restrooms, and half the time they won't even flush. Simply put, the smell is revolting. ".

The Greek honorary consulate in Belfast, Georgios Argyropoulos, told BBC News NI that the situation on Rhodes "is not great and there is panic.".

But he continued, "We know that everyone is doing their best.

"Fires are a summertime occurrence that we are accustomed to, and climate change is making them worse. We will see more of these; this is neither the first nor the last. ".

Tourists shelter in a sports hall after being moved away from wildfires in Rhodes
Sports facilities and schools have been designated as safe havens for tourists displaced by the wildfires.

Corfu and Evia, two well-known tourist destinations, started their evacuation procedures on Monday after fires started.

Theofanis Skembris, the deputy mayor of north Corfu, told the BBC that he thought the island's fires would soon be put out and that they were under control.

According to the fire service, approximately 2,500 people have so far been evacuated from Corfu. Hotels or homes have not yet been impacted.

The likelihood of hot, dry weather, which is likely to start wildfires, is increasing due to climate change.

Since the start of the industrial era, the world has already warmed by about 1°C, and temperatures will continue to rise unless governments drastically reduce carbon emissions, according to experts.

Prof. John Barry, the co-chair of the Belfast Climate Commission, was interviewed by BBC News NI and questioned what else needed to happen for people to "wake up" to the crisis' effects.

He claimed that in many ways, the unfortunate vacationers had been acting as temporary climate refugees who had to be rescued thanks to the efficiency of the Greek government and the generosity of the Greek people.

A map of Rhodes showing the spread of wildfires in the centre of the island
According to officials, 19,000 people have been evacuated by land and sea, and more are expected to leave three villages—Pefki, Lindos, and Kalathos.

Be aware that there is typically no automatic right to a refund if a flight or vacation is still planned to take place but you would prefer not to travel.

  • Some airlines, like Ryanair, are still transporting tourists to Rhodes. There is currently no flexibility available for customers who want to change their date.
  • All flights from Tui to Rhodes have been canceled through Friday, and flights to hotels that were impacted by the fires have been canceled through Sunday. All passengers scheduled to fly on these flights will be fully refunded. A fee-free change to another holiday or the option to cancel with a full refund will be offered to passengers scheduled to travel on Saturday and Sunday to areas not affected by fires.
  • Customers of EasyJet have some flexibility to change their dates.
  • All trips booked through July 30 on Jet2 have been canceled to Rhodes, and the airline says it is in touch with customers about refunds.
  • Customers who have reservations to travel to Rhodes on Tuesday but decide to change their minds can do so and receive a full refund, according to Thomas Cook. All vacations to Kiotari and Lardos have been canceled through July 31.

Customers who purchased package holidays and wished to cancel their trip would be entitled to a refund if it was "impossible for that holiday to go ahead," according to Richard Williams of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council.

The Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents' chair, Damian Murphy, said those whose flights were canceled were entitled to a full refund or would be given the option of an alternative vacation.

The next flights from Rhodes were scheduled to depart on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for Belfast International Airport, and there had not yet been any delays.

The UK government stated that it is "carefully reviewing the situation," but it did not want to overreact given the reality that the island's fires are only affecting a "restricted area.".

British nationals who were impacted by the fires were urged by the UK Foreign Office to heed the advice of the emergency services.

It suggests getting in touch with airlines or travel agencies who can help with a flight back to the UK in the first place.

The Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Ireland advised citizens to "move swiftly out of any affected areas" and activate mobile roaming to receive notifications from the regional authorities.

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