Brave Brit dubbed ‘angel of the ashes’ for fighting fires while on holiday in Greece


By Sarah Arnold

Heroic British data analyst has been dubbed the “angel of the ashes” after he gave up his holiday to volunteer to fight fires “like something out of Dante’s inferno” in Greece.
Apollo Gerolymbos, left his sun bed to work as an unpaid volunteer over the past two weeks evacuating homes and fighting 30 foot flames “house by house and tree by tree” as the sky turned crimson and ash fell like rain.

Apollo Gerolymbos has been an unpaid volunteer ( Image: COLLECTS / Apollo Gerolymbos)

The blazes have caused an ecological disaster in the popular British holiday destination of the Peloponnese and the capital Athens in the past 11 days.

Hardest hit is Greece’s largest island of Evia where fires continued to rage on Friday with four aeroplanes, two helicopters and firefighters desperately trying to dampen the flames.

It has led the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to say: “The climate crisis – I’d like to use this term, and not climate change – the climate crisis is here, and it shows us everything needs to change.”

Apollo, 36, who works at London Fire Brigades headquarters on London’s south bank and lives in North London with his wife Marijana and two year old son Leo, said: “The past days have been a battle – it is literally like a war, tree by tree in the forests and street by street.

“I have witnessed scenes of utter devastation, desperation and destruction.

“The fires have been intense. On day one, wind changes meant we had to evacuate.
“Our hoses were melted by the heat and flames, a church was burned down.

“The fire literally passed over our heads.
“It’s been described as ‘like something out of Dante’s inferno’, and that is true.

“There were 30 foot flames, you feel a rush of searing heat. We stood together and we used our water jets, held above our heads with a wide spray of water to create a ceiling above you to protect you from the embers and heat.
“It was like a wave, first you feel the heat, then you duck down the trees behind you start to catch fire and then you know it has passed over.

“It’s a rare event to be in that situation. You do experience fear, but you control it and keep focused on the job at hand.

The blazes have caused an ecological disaster ( Image: COLLECTS / Apollo Gerolymbos)

“It’s a like a battle. I’ve heard the word “war” used and that sums it up.
“We got up close and personal to the fire. The sky has been crimson and the heat of the flames can even causes a microclimate of clouds in the sky – and sometimes it causes electrical storms. The scenes are apocalyptic.”

Apollo’s day job is a desk job as a data analyst for London Fire Brigade, but since 2007 he’s volunteered as a firefighter in Greece, where he grew up before moving to London.
He said: “It was only by chance that I was here as we had taken a holiday and we’d been to the holiday island of Samos and then travelled to Athens – it was your classic Greek family holiday.

“But when I saw the scenes close to where I grew up before moving to the UK, I could not stand by and do nothing.

”Six people I know have lost their homes. I have never seen anything as severe as this. Greece is like a tinderbox.”

When his holiday period finished, London Fire Brigade gave him a special extended leave to remain in the country “to participate in civil protection and defence activities which are necessary as a result of a major accident or catastrophe”.
“I started work last Tuesday that was the beginning of the catastrophe – when a big fire had broken out on the outskirts of Athens.

“It was intense and the area was covered in pine trees so it progressed rapidly. It quickly moved into the residential area and consumed homes and factories. Over the following days it spread throughout seven neighbourhoods and the team of volunteers I work with attended five of those intense fires including helping to evacuate residents.

The fires have been described as “like something out of Dante’s inferno” ( Image: COLLECTS / Apollo Gerolymbos)
“We were joined by residents with garden hoses and even buckets.

“In one fire three Ferraris went up in flames, in one forest clearing a large number of classic cars had been burned through, an old wooden chapel was destroyed and all that was left was an oak frame that held the cross as the sky above turned red.

“It was already 40 degree heat without the heat from the fire and we were working in full equipment, it was gruelling.

“We’d drive down roads where every house was on fire and you try to pick one that strategically will help you to get the flames under control.

“I was very much a part of a team and sometimes we won, other times we had to pull back and start again. At one point the fire was heading towards us down a mountain and we used a swimming pool as a reservoir to try to save a house.

“Aside from the human cost there is the ecological one too and we also rescued a tortoise as animals were trying to flee. We also managed to stop a cemetery being destroyed. One of our volunteers has a young child buried there and it was important to us to save it.”

Athens resident Marios Anastasiades, whose home escaped the fires, said: “The sky in Athens has turned red and ashes have been raining down. For someone like Apollo to risk his life, as an unpaid volunteer is heroic. And that’s why he’s been given the name the angel of the ashes.”

London Fire Brigade Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills said: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the devastating fires in Greece. We are immensely proud of Apollo and all those from the Brigade who have helped fight fires in extremely challenging conditions.

“Apollo’s actions are testimony to the diverse life experiences and selflessness of our staff, whether working on the frontline or carrying out other roles to ensure our communities stay safe from fire.”

The Greek Prime Minister has warned that more fires are expected the coming weeks in Greece as the impact of climate change is felt across the world.

He said: “We are in the middle of August and it’s clear we will have difficult days ahead of us.

“This is a common crisis for all of us.”

Apollo added: “While all of us are aware of climate change, the devastation in Greece is heartbreaking to see.

“It is a wake up call for all of us.”

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