Fri, Jul 27, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Life and death lottery for those fleeing fires

GREEK TRAGEDY:A sandal, a cardigan and a child’s toy abandoned among pebbles were all that remained from what local resident Sabi Kissov called ‘a night of hell’

AFP, MATI, Greece

An aerial view shows burned houses and trees following a wildfire in the village of Mati, Greece, on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

When the fire came, Kiriaki Alexiadou and her grandson dashed to their car and fled to safety. Their neighbors, who set out toward the sanctuary of the sea on foot, were burned alive.

Hundreds of residents and holidaymakers in the bucolic seaside village of Mati bolted with just the clothes on their backs as Greece’s worst-ever fires tore through pine forests around Athens this week.

At the mercy of the furious blaze and the pummeling wind, whether they lived or died was decided by the grotesque lottery of nature.

“My husband said we had to leave with our seven-year-old grandson,” Alexiadou, 62, said. “We ran to the car as the pine cones were burning on the trees.”

Choking back the tears, she pointed to the charred skeleton of a house next to hers.

“The policewoman who lived there, her husband and their two children left on foot toward the sea, but they were trapped by this wall of flame,” she said.

At least 81 people are now known to have died in the fires that broke out late on Monday, ripping through the tinder-dry woods, and remorselessly engulfing homes and vehicles.

They include a newly married Irishman who had been on on honeymoon in Mati when his car was caught in the wildfires.

Although his wife, Zoe, managed to escape to a nearby beach, she was taken to hospital with burns, British media reported.

An unknown number of people remain missing.

As the smoke billowed over his property, Theodoros Christopoulos had seconds to decide whether to hunker down or flee toward the beach.

“There were five of us. I said: ‘Get back in the house.’ We closed the shutters — they’re aluminum — and I just thought whatever happens, happens,” he said. “The road was already blocked by cars trying to get out of Mati.”

Christopoulos was among the lucky ones — his home is largely undamaged and all five people who hid inside survived.

Many people in Mati sought refuge along the coves of the beach bordering the resort, where the detritus of the hasty escapes could be seen on Wednesday.

A sandal, a cardigan, a child’s toy abandoned among the pebbles were all that remained from what local resident Sabi Kissov called “a night of hell.”

The caretaker of a small house near the shore, he helped his employer, a 73-year-old cancer sufferer, down to the beach to wait out the inferno.

“There was at least 300 of us. The worst thing was the smoke, it hurt to breathe,” Kissov said.

Those huddled next to the sea were rescued by emergency workers in boats as the flames lit up the night sky.

Others were not as fortunate.

Just a few steps from Kissov’s home, the charred bodies of 26 people were found huddled together in the sarcophagus of a villa, the steep garden cliff face of the property apparently preventing their escape.

The fire’s cruel luck is streaked across the walls of some homes, which remained intact, despite being damaged.

Others were incinerated.

“We found everything when we got back, even the car, the cockerel and the dog,” said Kissov as he watered plants in his garden, a few meters from smouldering properties.

“You can’t explain it, why this house, why not that one ... it all happened so fast,” said Fani Antonini, fixing a toppled pot plant next to the smoking remains of what was once the family home. “At least I can still take a shower and offer you a drink, the water still works.”

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