A wildfire burns in a forest near Lardos, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 22, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

London: Jet2 cancelled all flights and holidays to Rhodes on Sunday and holiday group TUI has cancelled all outbound flights to the Greek island up to and including on Tuesday because of a wildfire, the companies said in statements.

Jet2 said in a statement posted on Twitter: "We have cancelled all flights and holidays that are due to depart to Rhodes today (five flights in total) ... We will fly those five aircraft to Rhodes with no customers onboard, so that we can bring customers back to the UK on their scheduled flights."

TUI said on its website: "We have cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Tuesday 25th of July 2023. Customers currently in Rhodes will return on their intended flight home."

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Biggest ever fire evacuation

The wildfires have been raging for several days and have destroyed large areas of forest and farmland. The Greek authorities have evacuated thousands of people from the affected areas.

The island of Rhodes is one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations, particularly with British, German and French tourists - many of whom are now being rapidly moved out of the path of the flames.

"We had to evacuate an area of 30,000 people," Konstantia Dimoglidou, Greek police spokeswoman told AFP, adding that everything had gone "smoothly".

"This is the biggest fire evacuation ever in Greece."

Police said that authorities had transported some 16,000 people across land, with 3,000 evacuated by sea, and others fleeing by road or under their own transport after being told to leave the area.

Authorities have warned that the battle to contain the flames - raging in the middle of peak tourism season - will take several days.

Tourists stand on a beach after being evacuated during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece, Saturday, July 22, 2023. Image Credit: Argyris Mantikos/Eurokinissi via AP

Stranded tourists

Tourists and some locals spent the night in gyms, schools and hotel conference centres on the island as firefighters battled the blaze.

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Evacuees sit inside a stadium following their evacuation during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece. Image Credit: AP

"It is an unprecedented situation for the island," Panagiotis Dimelis, head of the Archangelos village council, told Skai TV, adding that many locals had rushed to help the tourists.

The Athens News Agency said officials were set to visit the emergency facilities set up for tourists and help those who have been evacuated to contact tour operators.

The Greek foreign ministry and embassies in Greece were setting up a station at the Rhodes airport to help tourists that have lost travel documents in the evacuation.

Tour operators have also ordered additional charter flights to land at Rhodes in order to pick up travellers who wish to leave the island.

Three coastguard ships led more than 30 private vessels in the evacuation, while a Greek navy boat was heading to the area. Image Credit: Reuters

'Leave everything'

From the moment the evacuation alert sounded early in the afternoon, tourists headed for the beach, pulling their suitcases behind them.

TV footage broadcasted by ERT showed a solo woman carrying her luggage through the smoke, looking disorientated.

Firefighters were heard shouting at her: "Madam, your life! Come here! Leave everything behind.'

Cedric Guisset, a Belgian tourist who took shelter on Saturday, explained that he had to leave his hotel by foot with nowhere to go.

"We told the hotel about the messages we had received on our phones to evacuate the area, but they didn't even know about it," he told public radio station RTBF.

"We really just took our identity cards, water and something to cover our faces and heads."

A large part of the island was without electricity as the public power utility PPC shut down the local plant in the south for safety reasons.

More than 200 firefighters fought the blaze during the night.