‘I Watched my Mother Burn to Death’: Heartbreaking Stories from the Greek Tragedy



Some personal stories describe in the most heartbreaking way the tragedy of the fires that destroyed a good part of seaside East Attica, costing the lives of dozens, the injury of hundreds and the destruction of over two thousand homes.

Stories that are as vivid as the stark footage of the scorched earth that is now Mati and Neos Voutzas, the pictures of charred cars, the destroyed houses, footage of people standing in the water to save themselves from the ruthless blazes.

‘I watched my mother burn to death’

Thanasis Moraitis, on vacation with his mother, wife and child in Mati, faced a terrible dilemma: To save his 90-year-old mother or the rest of his family?

Sobbing as he went to give a DNA sample so the remains of his mother could be identified, Moraitis described how he had to leave his mother behind in the car as she could not walk easily.

He said that the flames were fast approaching the car. He grabbed his wife and child and ran to the sea.

He turned back and watched for the last time as his mother engulfed in flames.

“I did not even have the time to shout a last goodbye,” he said.

The family spent hours in the water before they were rescued.

The chef who literally predicted his death

Stories like the one of the death of chef Panagiotis Kokkinidis and his family tell of the chef with his wife and two children who found a tragic death in the Mati inferno.

The cruel irony is that Kokkinidis wrote on Facebook on Monday afternoon and even posted a video a little after the fires in East Attica broke out. “Unless a miracle happens, a lot of people will burn to death,” he wrote. A few hours later, the chef and his other three family members were among the people he had predicted would die, a few hours earlier.

“Memories of the Smyrna disaster”

“It brought memories of the Smyrna disaster,” said a fisherman who preferred to remain anonymous. He was one of the many volunteers who, despite the great danger, sailed to the black waters of Mati and Rafina to rescue people who had run to the coast so they would not burn to death.

Along with two Egyptian fishermen, the brave captain brought his fishing boat to Rafina port where dozens of boats were struggling to approach, and while hundreds of people were signalling and screaming for help. They needed a boat to take them away from the inferno.

The fisherman recounts: “Suddenly we saw people signalling and screaming for help. Even the sand was burning, along with the houses, the trees, the cars and the trucks. We approached with difficulty since the coast was rocky and we could not get close. People were crying, screaming “we are burning, please, I’ll give you all my fortune,” said one. “Please look for my two babies and my wife,” said another.

“At the pier, people were standing embraced, others were shouting the names of their loved one, others had parts of their bodies burnt, others had burns on their faces, others were screaming about their lost property. “Do you know anything?” they were asking, the fisherman said.

The mother who lost her husband and two children

The Fytros family tragedy shocked Greece as the surviving mother sent a letter to a television journalist after the death of her husband Grigoris and her 13-year-old daughter Evita and 11-year-old son Andreas were confirmed. She was away from Mati and tried her best to reach her family after the fires spread, but it was impossible. The letter was published, another testimony of the tragedy.

“I try to be like my daughter, who has always been a fighter and managed to prove it in every way. I know that Grigoris would do his best to save them. Not being able to reach them was simply the will of the Lord. I hear in my ears Andreas’ sweet, trembling voice: “I’m afraid, mommy, I’m very worried, I will be strong, but you should not come here, mommy. I don’t want you to come, everything is blocked, you will not make it.” I tried to reach them, for four hours I was trying to get closer to them. When I stopped trying,  thinking that it would be better not to endanger myself so I could help them if needed. I have no words. When I manage to identify my boys — because the state mechanism is useless — I will tell you with certainty that I have lost everything. Hug your children every day,” she advises with pain.

The loyal dog that didn’t leave his dead master

The loyalty of the dog that was found next to the charred body of its master made the rounds in social media, reminding that the word “humanity” is not exclusive to humans.

The poor dog, that also suffered burns, did not run away from the flames but stayed next to its human friend, probably trying to help him. It probably felt great pain seeing its master in agony but was unable to help. So, it did the best it could: Stand guard to his dead body.

After the firemen removed the dead body, the dog did not leave the area, but found shelter in the adjacent burned house, as neighbors testified.

The elderly couple that died together

The tragic story of the 72-year-old dentist and his wife became legend amid the mourning of so many lives lost. The couple were in their home in Mati with their two grandchildren and a woman who was helping in the house. As the flames were approaching the elderly couple told the woman to take the children and escape.

Since the man had health problems and could not move, he told his wife to leave too to save her life. But the woman refused and stood by her man until the fiery end.

The mother carrying her baby without knowing it was dead

A Mati resident spoke to Iefimerida.gr recounting one of the many tragic tales of the East Attica disaster. It is the story of a young mother who saw the flames approaching fast and grabbed her 6-month-old infant to run away to safety.

The woman in panic, ran towards the sea with the baby in her arms. Once she reached the coast, still holding her baby tight, she got in the water to cool off. However, people around her understood that her baby was dead, most likely from the fumes. The woman did not know that her infant was dead, but soon passed out.

The Mati resident said that the woman was taken to the hospital and put in intensive care. It is unknown if she knew the tragic fate of her infant before she passed out.