Hazel and her family were on a holiday in Rhodes, Greece. Then wildfires started closing in.

Right now across Europe, a series of wildfires are burning, leaving homes and people's lives at risk. A fire that has been particularly troubling is one continuing to rage across the Greek island of Rhodes.

For a week now, the fire has blazed past defences, forcing more than 19,000 locals and tourists to evacuate.

People were moved in buses and boats over the weekend, marking the country's biggest evacuation effort in recent years. It comes as temperatures were between 40 and 45°C.

Tourists Hazel Stevenson, her partner Colin Mackenzie and her two daughters Louisa and Annabel, travelled to Rhodes from their home in Scotland last week for a family holiday. It was a trip they had been thoroughly looking forward to.

They had no idea what awaited them and thousands of others.

Watch: footage of the evacuations. Post continues below.

Video via 9News.

They were staying at the Princess Andriana Resort & Spa in Kiotari, and were in the midst of enjoying their holiday when they first saw signs something was wrong.


On Friday night at the resort's evening entertainment show, ash started to rain down on the crowd. The guests were concerned but assured that things were fine and the fire was very far away. 

On Saturday morning, Hazel and her family went to breakfast and began to get ready to go  swimming. It was at this point they noticed a smoke cloud was getting closer and thicker. The anxiety had set in.

"The hotel told us there was nothing to worry about. The kids were oblivious to any danger and were still swimming and playing with friends. Around 12pm, we decided to go back to our room. Our room was high up and towards the smoke so we thought we'd get a closer look and assess. As we walked up, I could feel the air changing and it was affecting our breathing just slightly," Hazel explains to Mamamia

While in the room, they decided to pack their things "just in case".

Soon after, the power went out and their phones' reception was dead for around 10 minutes. They could see from their room's window that fire helicopters were collecting water from the nearby sea to try to put out the incoming fire. It was at this point Hazel realised the fire was getting dauntingly closer.

The first sign of the fire rumbling towards the direction of the hotel. Image: Supplied.


"Around this time, I got a Greek Government alert on my phone to evacuate. Once the power came back on, we called reception. They assured us the hotel was safe, and there would be a siren if we needed to evacuate," says Hazel.

In the meantime, Hazel could see people gathering at the resort's reception, so she and her family decided to go down. They also spoke to a few other guests nearby who were all as concerned and also preparing for a possible evacuation.

"At the reception, everyone was just standing around waiting for instruction. We received no advice, some people were frantic but others were just waiting. I think we waited there for around an hour until we were suddenly told to run to the beach and handed face masks," she recounts. 


"We'd been inside in the air conditioning, and as we stepped outside and turned to the left, we could see flames 300m away."

Fortunately, Hazel's family had some of their luggage already with them, and they began to rush with the crowd onto the nearby beach. By this point, Hazel says the air was so thick with smoke that it was hard to breathe.

"People with buggies, the elderly, people with suitcases, young children all frantically got onto the beach. We dragged our stuff through the smoke and heat. We could feel the heat from the flames at this point. People on the beach - locals or staff, I'm not sure - were yelling at us to just keep going as far as we could," she says.

"The girls were crying, as were lots of other children and adults too. People were screaming to go faster. The sand which is actually more pebbly was difficult to go quickly on. As we got a bit further up the beach, we saw a crowd of people board a tourist boat. It was filled quickly, with people leaving their luggage on the beach. There were also fishing boats which some people waded out to."

They walked a mile down the beach when Hazel's partner Colin heard someone say there was an evacuation bus. So they ran as fast as they could up to the road and jumped on it. They didn't know where the bus was going, but just knew it would be away from the fire - and that was good enough for them. 


At this point, they had abandoned one of their suitcases on the beach so they could move faster. The bus was completely jam-packed.

Hazel, her family, and other tourists awaiting evacuation. Image: Supplied.

The bus took the people to Gennadi, which is around seven kilometres away from the Princess Andriana Resort & Spa. Other parts of Rhodes like Gennadi had not yet been impacted by the wildfire, so Hazel and her loved ones were safe and grateful.


"We were dropped off but given no instruction. We stood in a car park waiting for some advice for around an hour. It was very hot. There was a continuous stream of flatbed trucks and buses arriving with tourists and dropping them off."

"By this point, we'd started chatting to another family, who were in the same position as us but with slightly older kids. A local man appeared and yelled at us to go to the school. So we followed his instruction and went up a hill to a local primary school," says Hazel.

The next few hours were a bit of a blur. 

They took temporary refuge in the school. There was little to no phone signal and some people had walked over six kilometres to get to safety.

"Everyone was confused and scared. The kids shared bubblegum and kept each other in good spirits playing thumb wars. After a while, the local mayor appeared and told us they would take care of us. A huge crate of water was brought and we got a drink. They even wheeled in a bbq at one point and said they'd feed us."

Reflecting on the kindness shown, Hazel notes: "The Greek locals undoubtedly saved tourists' lives. Without them, the situation would've been far more catastrophic."

A few hours in, Hazel and Colin heard that the meeting point for guests from their resort was officially down at the beach. So after much deliberation, they decided to go back down there and see if there were better instructions on what to do next. 


Down at the beach, there were hundreds if not thousands of displaced people. For context, Rhodes' population in this current summer season is often 90 per cent tourists, 10 per cent locals.

There was a representative at the beach from an airline, but they were prioritising travellers who had flights booked for that day. Hazel was out of luck. 

"There was a beach bar so we got some drinks and ice lollies. One of my daughters went for a swim fully clothed as we waited. We had fled in our swimwear and flip-flops too. Everyone was talking to each other and sharing the little bits of info we all had. People were trying to come up with plans on what to do next," she says.

Taking safety on the beach, and then everyone at a new hotel where they were evacuated to. Image: Supplied. 


As darkness fell, Hazel and her family decided to move again, going up the road to a spot that appeared to be further away from the fire. Even at night, it was still over 36°C and ashy. 

They eventually reached another hotel further down where people were congregating. 

Military buses and trucks were starting to appear, but most were completely full. Around midnight a bus arrived that Hazel, Colin and the girls managed to get on. She says people were screaming as they boarded the bus as families were split up. 

They were taken to another hotel around 10 kilometres away. It was full of people lying on the floor. Colin managed to find some pillows and a storeroom with drinks so they were relatively comfortable. Hazel slept an hour, her daughters slept a few and Colin didn't sleep at all.

"The hotel told us it was meant to accommodate 500 people and there were 7000 people in it. There were people everywhere, sleeping wherever they could find - in the gym on treadmills, in storage rooms, on balconies. From where we were, we could see the fire in the distance and were checking on it regularly through the night."


As sunrise came, Hazel took her daughters down to the pool for a wash and cool down. The kids were offered food by the hotel, but there wasn't enough for the adults. Hazel managed to get some plain rolls and a couple of mini pastries from another very kind family.

"We decided our best course of action was to get to the airport. Colin contacted the private transfer company we'd used to get to the hotel originally and arranged for the guy to come and get us. As the roads on the east were closed, he had to come the longer way around so we waited a couple of hours for him to arrive," she explains.

"Once in the taxi, he was able to give us cold water, which was the most delicious water I'd ever tasted. Around an hour and a half later, we were at the airport around midday."

Now at the airport, they managed to get a flight to Leeds in England, and then a taxi to Glasgow in Scotland where they drove home from. By 4am they were back at their house.

Right now, their suitcases are still being dealt with. The still don't have the suitcase they abandoned on the beach. They've seen Facebook posts that locals have gathered up the abandoned luggage and it's at the local town hall. Hazel's not sure how or if they will be able to get it back. But honestly - Hazel says she doesn't care - considering the threat of the fire, they feel extremely lucky to be home and safe. 


Reflecting on the situation, Hazel says she feels a large amount of empathy for the locals of Rhodes. 

"My heart goes out to everyone affected and particularly the people of Rhodes who can't just get on a flight and away like we did. They did everything they could to help tourists while their island was burning," she tells Mamamia

"We met lots of people throughout the experience who we're trying to get in contact with to find out if they're safe. So many people, at each stage, were helpful, offering support, sharing food, sharing information," she says.

"Our tour operator, the hotel and the Greek Government clearly had no plan on how to safely evacuate thousands of tourists. Once we realised this and started making independent decisions, it was a lot easier to navigate the situation."

Ultimately, it was a terrifying experience for Hazel, Colin and the girls - an experience they will never forget. But there's one resounding takeaway reflection she has from the whole ordeal.

"My kids were absolutely incredible. The beach was the scariest part for them but they showed a resilience that is honestly astounding. I also saw acts of kindness and togetherness that will also stay with me forever - people sharing pieces of food, towels and water. That's restored my faith in humanity."

Image: Supplied.