RAFINA, Greece – One of the survivors of major forest fires that ravaged a seaside area of Greece has given a dramatic account of how he fled from the fire, swimming into the sea to escape the flames and choking smoke only to get swept away by the current. He was rescued by a fishing boat but saw other members of his group drown.
Nikos Stavrinidis had gone to his summer home in the Mati area near Rafina with his wife to prepare it for his student daughter who was coming to stay. Before he knew it, the fire surrounded him.
"It happened very fast. The fire was in the distance, then sparks from the fire reached us. Then the fire was all around us," Stavrinidis told The Associated Press.
"We ran to the sea. We had to swim out because of the smoke, but we couldn't see where anything was," he said.
There were six people in his group: Stavrinidis, his wife and some of her friends. They swam further out to escape the smoke, but as they did so, they began to be carried away by the wind and the current. They lost sight of the shore and became disoriented. "We couldn't see anything," he said.
Gale-force winds fanning the flames in the area also hampered firefighting efforts and whipped up the seas.
"We didn't all make it," Stavrinidis said. One of the women in his group and one woman's son drowned.
"What upsets me and what I will carry in my heart is that it is terrible to see the person next to you drowning and not be able to help him. You can't. That's the only tragic thing," he said, his voice breaking. "That will stay with me."
Stavrinidis says he believes they were in the water for about two hours before being picked up by a fishing boat with an Egyptian crew.
"I'm grateful to all of them," he said. "They jumped into the sea with their clothes still on. They made us tea and kept us warm. They were great."