A MOTHER and her two children have described how they escaped the forest fires in Greece when their summer holiday went up in flames. Jennifer Newman, from King s Ripton, said: It was like a war zone with helicopters overhead and smoke and ash raining do

Safely home are Jennifer Newman, above, with children Mitchell and Samantha - Pic: Helen Drake

A MOTHER and her two children have described how they escaped the forest fires in Greece when their summer holiday went up in flames.

Jennifer Newman, from King's Ripton, said: "It was like a war zone with helicopters overhead and smoke and ash raining down on us."

Mrs Newman and her children, Mitchell, 11, and Samantha, eight, were staying on Halkidiki, where three fires devastated the peninsula.

Forest fires, which the Greek police believe were started by arsonists, tore through the tinder-dry timber, cutting off resorts and villages.

The family were with Mrs Newman's brother-in-law and sister-in-law Colin and Lesley Newman and their children, Alexander, 11, and Christian, six, from Braintree, Essex.

They were evacuated from their hotel to the beach but had to gamble on returning to the hotel's reception, despite the impending danger, because one of the children, Alexander, has cystic fibrosis and it was crucial that he did not inhale the smoke.

The fires began on Monday, August 21. Mrs Newman, 42, said: "On the first day, we saw smoke in the distance at the back of our apartment. We were near the main road and we could hear a great deal of commotion - the noise of cars and frightened children. The road was gridlocked and I thought if we had to be evacuated we were not getting on a coach because, if the fire reaches the road, we'd be roasted. I would rather run into the sea.

"We were told that the fire was going in the opposite direction to us and we could stay put, so that evening we sat playing cards on the balcony but from 7pm until midnight, there was calamity all around us. Fire engines were continually blazing by and more and more cars were queuing trying to get out.

"My son was quite nervous but I said, if we need to get out, we'd get out. When it got dark, there was a red glow in the sky but it was still at quite a distance."

Then overnight, the scene changed.

Mrs Newman said: "I woke up for some reason at 1.30am. I went to check the children and they were fast asleep and then I went into the kitchen. I drew back the blind and the sky above us was completely red and I could see flames right in front of me. I thought, this isn't going in the opposite direction to us.

"I went outside and closed the door quietly because I didn't want to panic the children and I knocked on my sister-in-law's apartment next door. They didn't hear me, so I went back inside to use my phone but the lines must have been jammed. I went back outside and knocked on the window - and I couldn't repeat what my sister-in-law Lesley said when she saw the sky."

The family decided to leave the hotel for the beach, taking their money, tickets and passports.

"Smoke and ash were falling out of the sky on to our heads. We were worried about Alexander breathing in the smoke, so we went back to the hotel reception and stayed there the night. We had no sleep. The next day, we thought we would be able to sleep by the pool but the noise of the sea planes and the helicopters overhead trying to douse the flames made it sound like a war zone.

"My daughter was worried when she saw the aircraft and she said: 'I want to go home, it's all starting again'. I said not to worry, they were just damping it down now, but she was right. By mid-morning, there was loads of smoke again and by 4pm the beach was again covered in smoke and ash."

By the end of the second day of the fire, on the last day of their week's holiday, the family accepted relocation to another hotel near the airport. Mrs Newman said they had no complaints about how the hotel or tour agent, First Choice, handled the emergency.

"No one panicked and they brought us water to the beach and to reception. The only one thing was that when we decided to leave, we were told to be ready in 20 minutes - and then the coach didn't arrive for four hours."

Mrs Newman said her sister-in-law now believed her holidays were jinxed. "Last year in Spain, their apartment was robbed and cash taken, and the year before there was a dead man on the beach. We have said we are not going to Tenerife next year because there is a volcano there.