Fighting For | September 24, 2020
Nikos and Zeta Giannopoulos grew up in Mati, Greece, an idyllic seaside town that draws both tourists and locals with the allure of fresh, salty air; cool blue waters; and a serene canopy of lush pines. Mati is where the couple fell in love, had a community of friends and neighbors, raised their children, and felt their everyday life was paradise.
But on July 23, 2018, at 5 p.m., helicopters began flying overhead, signaling something was amiss. Soon after, smoke began trickling in from the west, but information was sparse. Some reports said a wildfire was still far away, others said it had changed direction and was headed to town, Nikos recalls. Confusion ensued.
By 6 p.m. the house was on fire. Zeta loaded the dog into the car and began driving. She was fortunate, she says — she guessed and chose the right direction to travel. Because of the conflicting information being shared, some people drove straight into the fire and died. Smoke filled the town to the point it was impossible to see, Zeta recalls.
“It was coming after me, and I was shouting ‘Where are you? Where are you?’ He [Nikos] told me, ‘Don’t shout, I’m here.’ I could not see him,” Zeta remembers.
“I was 5 meters behind,” Nikos adds.
People attempted to move toward safety. Many fled toward the sea, but some couldn’t find the entrance along the seawall. Others tried to drive out of town or wait in their homes. Nikos and Zeta survived, but 102 people did not, among them Nikos’ mother. Neither did their home, their possessions, or the photos of the life they had built. What was once a paradise lay in ruin and ash.
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