Memorial Service Held for Greek Victims

MATI, Greece (AP) -- Hundreds of mourners attended a memorial service in a seaside Greek village Sunday for the dozens of people who perished when a fast-moving wildfire swept through a coastal area east of Athens.

The senior local Greek Orthodox Church official, Bishop Kyrillos, presided over the service at Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church in Mati, a popular resort spot that was the place hardest-hit by the blaze that killed at least 86 people.

The fire that sped flames through the village without warning July 23 was the deadliest wildfire in Europe since 1900, according to the International Disaster Database run by the Centre for the Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Brussels.

Kyrillos said the community is mourning the loss of family, neighbors and friends.

"There's fewer of us now than usually. It is the victims of the recent fire that are missing — friends, relatives and acquaintances, next-door people that we saw every day in town and on the beach," the bishop said during the memorial service.

The vast majority of victims died in the fire itself, though a number drowned in the sea while fleeing the flames.

Dozens of volunteer divers, some of them retired Navy Seals, kept searching the sea off Mati on Sunday looking for the bodies of more possible victims. Greek officials have not made public how many people remained missing since the fire.

Local resident Angeliki Galiatsatou said she narrowly managed to escape the fire that killed others in their cars and homes.

"I came to pray for the people who were lost and I pray that God blesses us all," she said.

Greek authorities have said they have reason to believe the fire resulted from arson and turned so deadly because winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) buffeted the pine-forested seaside resorts at the time.

The Greek government also has come under criticism for how buildings and roads were laid out in the area and an alleged lack of adequate preparation for fire season. More than 2,000 homes were damaged in the fire and roughly a quarter will have to be demolished, Greek officials said Friday.

The Holy Synod made up of all Greek bishops said in a letter read out loud at Sunday's memorial service that everyone bears responsibility for protecting the environment from haphazard development.

"What words of comfort can you offer the person who has lost their father, their mother, the grandparents in whose arms their grandchildren were found?" Kyrillos said. "What words of solace can you offer a mother who has lost her baby and left a few flowers on the beach?"

(KA)