TWO British families who ran for their lives to escape from the inferno of Rhodes' wildfires have slammed British Airways for offering "no assistance".
The Spindlers and the Combrincks, from Surrey, are furious at the UK airline for leaving them stranded and terrified and then slapping them with a £700 bill to get flights to safety.
The families with three daughters aged between seven and five had been enjoying a sun-soaked week in Kiotari – one of the first resort areas the blaze ripped through on Saturday.
They fled in their swim gear and only had time to grab their passports and a child's cuddly toy.
This was the same state they were in hours later when they allegedly first contacted British Airways and were offered "no assistance".
"It’s upsetting to read in the press how BA are saying they are helping stranded families as that certainly wasn’t our experience," Emma Spindler, 50, told The Sun.
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Shaken, bruised and exhausting from a hellish journey, the mum-of-one says they phoned the airline on Sunday morning.
"They didn’t even ask how we were. At the stage we were speaking to them, we were in swimwear with our passports and nothing else, with no idea if our possessions or hotel had survived.
"We had no communication via email, text or their app so had not been provided with emergency contacts or directed how to make contact with BA, we just called their call centre."
Despite seeing BA's statements online that they had introduced a free-of-charge flexible booking policy for evacuees – the families were allegedly told they couldn't get on a flight and if they wanted to fly from elsewhere they'd have to pay up.
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The two families were forced to hatch a plan to get a ferry over to Turkey and fly from there.
Looking back, I don't know how we did it
"There was no mention of help during our call," she said, and instead BA charged them £700 for the flight change.
Their confrontation with the British airline came only hours after their horror escape from the inferno that threatened to burn down their hotel.
Emma said: "Around the pool on Saturday we were being covered in ash, but told there was nothing to worry about.
"By lunchtime, the sky had darkened, the sun was obscured by smoke and there was a smell of burning in the air."
The wildfires stormed towards them, the power went off and they were told to go straight to the beach. "At that point my daughter started to cry, she was scared," she recalled.
At the beach, she said: "water was being handed out and we were given masks and towels that we were told to wet in the sea.
"The smoke was starting to make our eyes sting and as we had the children’s swimming goggles they put them on with wet towels around their shoulders."
A gruelling trek ensued for the families from Epsom.
"We walked and we walked, sometimes climbing over rocks in the water when the sand disappeared, whilst trying not to show the children really how worried we were by the situation.
"It was hard, hot, the girls were troopers, and just got on with it, no complaining…Our friends were taking it in turns to carry their 5 year old.
"Our feet were cut, but the smoke was following us and we had to keep moving."
A kind local offered them some shade and then a lift to an evacuation point and eventually they were sleeping in a hotel conference centre still in their swimwear.
"Once the adrenaline had stopped pumping and we were lying in bed, nursing cuts, bruises, sunburn and a broken toe, I realised how different the day could have been."
After a short rest and failing to get on a BA flight, they headed out on a ferry to Fethiye, Turkey and after many hours later they touched down in London.
"Looking back I don’t know how we did it, especially the children, but we did, we had to.
"There were lots of questions, which we didn’t have the answers to, I can only imagine what was going through their minds at the time."
Once safe at home, Emma said: "Our holiday didn’t turn out exactly as we expected but we will never forget the kindness of the hotel staff and local people who have to rebuild their lives, homes and livelihoods after we get home."
Their kindness. she said, "brought us to tears".
A British Airways spokesperson told The Sun: "We’re doing everything we can to help our customers and introduced a flexible booking policy within hours of the news of evacuations on Saturday to enable customers to change their flights to come home early from Rhodes.
"This is a fast-moving situation and availability on our flights continues to fluctuate as customers amend their travel plans.
"Our teams are in touch with our customers to apologise and refund the difference in their journey."
In Rhodes, more than 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3,000 by sea from 12 villages and several hotels over the weekend in the largest evacuation effort Greece has ever seen.
Terrified holidaymakers were forced to flee burning hotels, wade through water and sleep in makeshift camps on the floors of schools and gyms.
Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said up to 10,000 British tourists were stranded on the island yesterday, many of whom were facing a "living nightmare".
Around 450 firefighters and seven planes have arrived from the EU to help tackle the dozens of fires, while neighbouring Turkey sent 20 water-dropping planes and helicopters to join the efforts.
Mercy flights finally began to bring them home yesterday — with more expected today.
Today, tourists have also been told to evacuate Agioi Theodoroi and parts of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, after forest fires erupted in the areas.
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Wildfires are also raging on the island of Corfu, while tourists have been warned of an "extreme fire risk" in Crete and now the Spanish island of Majorca.
And in the popular Italian island of Sicily, Palermo airport was forced to close today due to fires burning dangerously close to its runways.
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