Irish man confirmed dead in Greek wildfires

Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp became separated from his wife as they fled the blaze

Survivors in Greece recount fleeing huge, fast-moving fires that killed at least 79 people. Video: Reuters

 

An Irish man who went missing during the worst wildfires to hit Greece in more than a decade has died, his family has confirmed.

Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp became separated from his wife Zoe Holohan as they fled the blaze which broke out in the town of Mati, some 30km from Athens, on Monday.

At least 74 people have been killed after the fire through a resort town near Athens.

Firefighters and volunteers try to extinguish a wildfire raging in Verori, near Loutraki city, Peloponnese, southern Greece, on Tuesday. Photograph: Vassilis Psomas/EPA
Firefighters and volunteers try to extinguish a wildfire raging in Verori, near Loutraki city, Peloponnese, southern Greece, on Tuesday. Photograph: Vassilis Psomas/EPA

In a statement, the Holohan and O’Callaghan-Westropp families said: “We are deeply saddened to confirm the death of our family member, Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp.

“The families would respectfully appreciate privacy at this time as we grieve and as Zoe makes her recovery.

“Funeral arrangement will be announced at a later stage,” the statement, issued through the Department of Foreign Affairs, read.

The couple got married at Clonabreany House in Kells, Co Meath, last Thursday before flying out to Greece for their honeymoon on Saturday.

Ms Holohan, who works in the advertising department at the Sunday World, is in hospital after suffering burns to her head and hands.

The couple were travelling together in a car which was attempting to flee the blaze but gridlock along the roads out of the town forced them to try and make their way to safety on foot.

Tinderbox

As the fire raged around them, they made their way through the traffic and headed toward the sea front but were separated close to the water.

Gallery

Images of wildfire devastation in Greece VIEW NOW

It was only when Ms Holohan - who suffered serious burns to her hands - reached the relative safety of the water’s edge that she realised her husband was no longer by her side.

It is understood Ms Holohan had the couple’s travel documents.

A firefighting airplane flies behind a burned house following a forest fire in Mati a northeast suburb of Athens, Greece, 24th of July, 2018. Photograph: YANNIS KOLESIDIS/EPA
A firefighting airplane flies behind a burned house following a forest fire in Mati a northeast suburb of Athens, Greece, 24th of July, 2018. Photograph: YANNIS KOLESIDIS/EPA

Irish ambassador to Greece  Orla O'Hanrahan said her sympathies went out to the family of Mr O'Callaghan-Westropp at this time. 

“Zoe has undergone injuries but is getting treatment in an Athens Hospital at the moment. She is getting excellent care and is expected to make a full recovery. The embassy are making every effort to get the support they can to both families,” she told RTÉ Six One.

“We have one member of the family here at the moment but they are needing privacy and we hope that is respected in Ireland and in Greece as both or the families deal with this news,” she said.

Ms O’Hanrahan said there weare no reports of any other Irish citizens being affected by the fires.

Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras described the fires, which left more than 170 people injured and forced many more to flee, as an “unspeakable tragedy”.

The huge, fast-moving fires trapped families with children as they tried to flee from Mati. Among the dead were 26 people whose bodies were found huddled tightly together close to the beach.

The group “had tried to find an escape route but didn’t make it in time”, said Nikos Economopoulos, the head of Greece’s Red Cross. “Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced.”

Emergency workers described areas around Athens as being like a tinderbox after a dry winter and a summer heatwave in which temperatures have risen above 40 degrees. Around 50 brush and forest fires broke out across the country on Monday and Tuesday but the majority were quickly extinguished.

Mr Tsipras said a state of emergency had been declared in the Attica region, which includes Athens, and he also ordered three days of national mourning.

“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” he said, adding: “We mustn’t let mourning overwhelm us, because these hours are hours of battle, unity, courage and above all solidarity.”

The fire was the country’s deadliest since dozens of people died in the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007.

A firefighting helicopter and firemen work to extinguish a wildfire in Verori, near Loutraki city, southern Greece, on Tuesday. Photograph: Vassilis Psomas/EPA
A firefighting helicopter and firemen work to extinguish a wildfire in Verori, near Loutraki city, southern Greece, on Tuesday. Photograph: Vassilis Psomas/EPA

Greece activated an EU agreement to request help from fellow member states to battle the fire and a military transport plane carrying 60 firefighters flew out of Cyprus while Spain dispatched two water-dropping planes. Other countries, including Turkey, Israel and Italy, also offered air support.

Sympathy

A woman living in Mati told Skai TV that “Mati doesn’t even exist as a settlement any more . . . I saw corpses, burnt-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive.”

President Michael D Higgins, who visited Greece earlier this year, said he had written to his Greek counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos to express his sympathies.

“ I am very conscious of the resilience of the Greek people, who should be assisted by all of us in these difficult times,” he said in a statement. “I offered, on behalf of the people of Ireland, our deepest condolences and our solidarity.”

The Irish Travel Agents Association said the Mati area was not a major destination for Irish tourists but that anyone due to travel imminently to the region affected should speak to their travel company or accommodation provider.

Irish citizens affected by the fires or concerned about relatives in Greece can contact the Irish Embassy in Athens at +30 210 723 2771, or the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin at 01-408 2000. (- Additional reporting: Guardian)