Fergal Gilmartin and Thómas McManus pictured with other EVA Erasmus volunteers at Xylókastro, Greece.
The families of two local lads will be delighted to welcome home their boys this week who were volunteering close to the raging fires in Greece last week that took over 88 lives including that of an Irishman.
Fergal Gilmartin from Ballinaglera and Thómas McManus from Arigna were volunteering in Xylókastro, Greece during the horrific forest fires that killed young and old as it tore through villages at an enormous speed.
Speaking to the Leitrim Observer this week, Fergal Gilmartin said they were “very lucky” to be far enough from the fires, so that they could see it, but were not caught up in it.
The boys were located in a village just a ten minute drive to one of the massive forest fires that engulfed a village and spread quickly killing locals and tourists.
Fergal said it was “mad” and a “bit scary” to see how quickly the fires took hold and the devastation they left in their wake.
Ironically the boys volunteering with Erasmus were helping to maintain a forest which is “the signature of the area.”
Fergal explained, “We could see the fires from the balcony where we were living, as clear as day, it was extraordinary.”
Fergal and Thomas were volunteering with eight others from around Europe, they were planting, maintaining and caretaking the forestry.
He said there was “uproar in town” when people realised loved ones were caught up in the fires, he said the army helicopters were taking water from the beach where they stayed and all you could hear day and night were fire engine and ambulance sirens.
Greece announced a State of Emergency during the fires, the boys said while their village was not affected by this, the next closest town was almost under curfew as the Government tried to account for people and keep them away from the fires.
Fergal said there was talk locally that the fires were started deliberately but he commented that the conditions were “perfect” for fire, he said the ground is so dry and with the hot weather and wind any spark could have started it.
He explained the land has no moisture so they needed to water the forest they were working on daily “it is some difference to Ireland.”
The fires are the deadliest in Greece to hit since 2007.
Despite the massive tragedy happening around them, Fergal said they did enjoy their volunteering experience and he said they learned vital skills that will set them up for college life, which he begins in September.
Fergal said this experience would not deter him from visiting Greece again or from volunteering.
Fergal continued both of their families were worried about their safety, “My mam called up as soon as she heard of the fires and they called quite often to make sure I was ok.”
He added, “They wanted to make sure we were not causing any trouble.”
He said both of their families had been keeping a close eye on the news and are happy that they are returning home.
Fergal and Thomas were expected to fly from Athens to Dublin yesterday evening.
They volunteered with Erasmus EVA through Good Energies Alliance based in Ballinaglera.