TUI cancels all flights to wildfire-hit Rhodes up to Friday - as hundreds of stranded British tourists rescued

Travel company TUI has cancelled all flights to Rhodes up to Friday as wildfires continue to rage on the Greek island.

As many as 10,000 Britons are estimated to be on Rhodes, part of which has been ravaged by the blazes, forcing many to sleep in schools, airports and sports centres.

Hundreds of holidaymakers have now landed back in the UK - with more repatriation flights set to take place as the wildfires on Rhodes rage for their seventh day.

It comes as Housing Secretary Michael Gove told Sky News on Tuesday he plans to holiday on the Greek island of Evia in just over a week as he insisted the region is safe for holidaymakers despite fire concerns.

Some 77 firefighters were battling scattered outbreaks in Evia on Monday, said Greece's state agency ANA-MPA, citing the fire department.

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A TUI spokesperson said: "We have cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Friday 28 July, and have also cancelled all outbound flights for customers travelling to impacted hotels up to and including on Sunday 30th July.

"All flight only customers due to travel on these flights will receive full refunds. Package holiday customers will have the option to amend their booking or cancel with a full refund.

"Passengers due to travel up to and including Sunday 30 July for all areas of Rhodes will be offered a fee free amend to another holiday or the option to cancel for a full refund."

The repatriation efforts come as scores of people were forced to spend the weekend sleeping rough on beaches, sun loungers, or on the streets as wildfires raged across Rhodes.

Sea evacuations have also been taking place at a beach in Corfu to transport individuals fleeing wildfires on that Greek island.

Firefighting planes from neighbouring Turkey joined the effort to tackle the fires on Rhodes on Monday, where 10 water-dropping planes and 10 helicopters buzzed over flames up to 16 feet tall despite low visibility.

A British mother has told of her "terrifying" ordeal as she was evacuated from a Rhodes hotel - which has since burned down - with her partner and two-year-old daughter.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has urged holidaymakers hit by wildfires to remain in touch with tour operators - as UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said a Rapid Deployment Team of Foreign Office and Red Cross responders is in Rhodes to support British people.

It comes as a wildfires expert from Swansea University has said poorly-managed land and the effects of climate change have created "more flammable landscapes" on Greek islands - adding that similar fires could rage across Crete.

Greece's prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a debate in parliament: "We are at war -- completely focused on the fires.

"Over the coming days and weeks, we must remain on constant alert."

He also said climate change "will make its presence ever more felt with greater natural disasters throughout the Mediterranean region".

Holidaymakers begin returning to the UK

TUI said four repatriation flights had started to bring customers home on Monday, with a fifth flight planned for Tuesday morning.

"All available flights on scheduled returns will be utilised," a spokesperson for the airline added.

Meanwhile, Jet2 said it carried out its first repatriation flight from Rhodes into the UK on Sunday evening - with 95 passengers brought into Leeds Bradford Airport.

The tour operator said it would operate three more repatriation flights from Rhodes to bring customers back to the UK on Monday night.

Jet2 said a flight to Manchester would have 220 seats, while flights to Leeds Bradford Airport and Birmingham would each have 189 seats.

The company also said it had "significantly increased" its presence on the island as well as carrying out repatriation flights.

EasyJet has said it was laying on two repatriation flights from the island on Monday, in addition to the nine flights they already operate between Rhodes and the UK - providing 421 extra seats to get people out.

Watch our special programme 'Greece Wildfires: Holidays Under Threat' at 7pm on Sky News

Meanwhile, a sea evacuation from Corfu 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.

Jet2 and fellow tour operator Correndon have also cancelled flights leaving for Rhodes in the next few days.

Travel agent Thomas Cook cancelled some upcoming holidays and is offering other customers full refunds should they wish to cancel their trips.

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Thousands of British nationals on Rhodes

Asked how many British people are currently on Rhodes, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell told Sky News on Monday: "It's difficult to be absolutely sure, the figure is between 7,000 and 10,000."

When asked how many UK holidaymakers are on Corfu, the Foreign Office minister added: "We're not sure how many are on Corfu, but the position on Corfu is very different.

"The fires are not taking place in residential areas or holiday areas, and although some people were temporarily moved, they've now been sent back to their accommodation."

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Mr Mitchell also said it is "difficult to say" whether the wildfires on the islands will get better or worse and said it "depends on which way the wind blows and how fiercely it blows".

It comes as Professor Stefan Doer, director of the centre for wildfire research at Swansea University, said other holiday islands "such as Crete" may also be at risk of wildfires.

Professor Doer said "insufficient management of vegetation" and more extreme weather due to climate change has created "more flammable landscapes" on Greek islands.

'I didn't think I was going to make it'

Wildfires raged in Rhodes as tourists and residents huddled in schools and shelters on the island, with many evacuated on private boats from beaches as flames menaced resorts and coastal villages.

Around 19,000 people had been rescued from the island so far as of Monday morning.

Amy Leyden, a British tourist who was rescued from Rhodes, has said her evacuation was a "terrifying" experience, adding: "I didn't think I was going to make it."

Police rushed Ms Leyden, her partner and their two-year-old daughter from their hotel - which has now burned down - before they ran through "thick smoke".

"We just had to keep running and then the fire was getting closer and it was getting harder to breathe," she said.

A local man picked up the family in a truck and drove them to the beach, she explained, but the sight she was greeted by was "awful".

"The army was waiting but everyone was fighting to get onto the boats, there were children falling in the water."

Another British family spent a night sleeping on the floor of a school after being evacuated from a wildfire on Rhodes.

Olga Kefalogianni, Greece's tourism minister, has told Sky News "overall, the island is functioning very well".

She also praised locals for showing "solidarity" with tourists affected by the fires.

As crowds filled Rhodes airport following wildfires over the weekend, the Greek foreign ministry said it was setting up a helpdesk for people who had lost travel documents.

Meanwhile, Greece's Emergency Communications Service published evacuation orders for some areas of Corfu.

People in the areas of Santa, Megoula, Porta, Palia, Perithia and Sinies on the island were told to leave on Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, an average of 50 new wildfires have broken out daily for the past 12 days in Greece, according to government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis.