Family escapes from ’12ft’ flames, ‘I thought we were dead’

By now you will have seen the images of airports packed with tourists hoping to return to the UK, safe from the fires burning through Rhodes.

Among those lucky enough to have made it home are Damien and Karen Townsend – 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.”

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, Damien said, was nowhere to be seen.

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.”

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