On Monday, July 23, 2018, a fire sped flames through the village of Mati, a popular resort spot, east of Athens without warning. A database maintained by the Centre for the Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels shows it as the deadliest wildfire in Europe since 1900. The vast majority of victims died in the fire itself, though a number drowned in the sea while fleeing the flames.
The soot-smothered mermaid doll lying among the detritus of a fire-gutted home may have been in a child’s hands just before the flames swept through.
The little canary’s chirps were probably silenced just as the fire’s chocking smoke engulfed its tiny cage. All that remains of a bicycle that was once a child’s pride and joy is now a blackened hulk. And a singed soccer ball with a Chelsea logo won’t be used again for another kid’s pick-up game.
These are a few of the personal items left strewn among the burnt-out remains of hundreds of homes in the Greek coastal resort community of Mati that was devastated by Monday’s wildfire. They bear silent witness to a resort teeming with life as many families enjoyed their summer holidays.
More than 90 people were either killed by the flames or drowned as they tried to flee the fire into the nearby sea, waiting for hours in the water for rescue from local fishermen and other boat owners.
The speed with which the fire swept through the area 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of the capital of Athens was something never encountered before, firefighters and first responders said.
They said many among the victims were children. Flames had burned so hot that they melted the metal from some cars into puddles.
Greek authorities have already begun the cleanup as crews continue to look through homes for bodies — some so badly charred that it took firefighters two or three passes through the same structures to spot them.
More than 2,000 homes were damaged in the fire and roughly 500 of them will have to be demolished, authorities said. And with them, the once-cherished items will be taken away too.
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