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Friday 17 August 2018

'We ran for our lives' - Wildfire terror of young Irish students

A photo of Mati taken by the couple
A photo of Mati taken by the couple
Chloe Sugrue and Sean Davis

A young Irish couple caught up in the horrifying Greek wildfires that killed at least 81 people have said they ran for their lives.

Chloe Sugrue (19), from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, and her boyfriend Sean Davis (21), from Finglas, were enjoying the "happiest time" of their lives on a "perfect" first holiday as a couple when disaster struck.

The couple were on their second day in the resort of Mati when the wildfires began to rage in the mountains above the Mati Hotel, where they were staying.

With only moments to act, they knew they had to run fast, as it was a "matter of life or death", Chloe said.

"It was about 3pm when we saw smoke. We thought nothing of it at first, just that it was a bit of a gorse fire up in the mountains.

Panicking

"We went about our day. Then at 5.30pm we decided to go for dinner up a bit from the hotel and the staff said the restaurant wasn't open.

"We walked outside and there were people screaming everywhere and panicking.

"We went back to the hotel and asked the manager what had happened. She said: 'There's a fire up in the mountain'.

"The staff were all panicking as their families were up there in the mountain.

"They told us to stay in the hot- el, but then 10 minutes later they told us to get out of the hotel, to get on to the beach.

"The fire was coming from the mountain. We heard a big bang, so we ran to the beach - we ran for our lives to the water.

"There were people running around us. It was very scary.

"The fire was fast app- roaching our hotel. We were wondering how we were going to make it. Our holiday went from the happiest time of our lives to how are we going to survive this, how are we going to get home?"

Chloe, who is studying childcare at Marino College in Dublin, and Sean, a pharmaceutical science student at DCU, fled the flames and sat on a bench on the beach surrounded by distraught families.

The young couple watched in terror as the fire travelled towards their hotel, destroying an apartment block beside it.

Somehow, though, the flames raged round Hotel Mati, and they managed to phone home to let their families know they were all right.

However, the couple, along with many others on the beach, suffered smoke inhalation.

"We were on the beach from around 6pm until 1am and the fire was all round our hotel," said Chloe, who spoke about the incident on the News at One on RTE Radio 1 yesterday, and later spoke to the Herald.

"It came to 2am and the emergency services said the route was clear and we could go back to the hotel," she said.

"We know we're so lucky to be alive."

Meanwhile, television presenter Alan Hughes has paid an emotional tribute to his friend Brian O'Callaghan-Westropp, who died in the wildfires.

The TV3 host and his husband, Karl Broderick, were guests at Brian's wedding last week to Zoe Holohan, who remains in hospital in Athens.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the repatriation process had begun to organise the return of Mr O'Callaghan-Westropp's remains.

In a Facebook post, Alan described him as "a friendly, warm guy".

"Our hearts are breaking for Zoe, who's such a beautiful person, and indeed Brian's mother, their family and friends," he said.

Generous

Family friend Fr Shay Casey, who is chaplain of Athlone Institute of Technology, told RTE's Morning Ireland that Mr O'Callaghan- Westropp was a "generous soul".

He said his mother, Rosemary, had flown to Athens in the hope of bringing her son's remains home to be buried in Killaloe, Co Clare.

Fr Casey revealed that this was not the first time tragedy had struck the family.

Rosemary lost her only other son, Colin, in a motorcycle crash in 1997, when he was only 21, while her husband died when the boys were quite young.

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