Australian-born Theodosis Kakouris decided to volunteer to help fight the wildfires in Attica, Greece, back in August 2021, but his selfless act cost him a lengthy stint in jail.
Not only did his efforts remain recognised, but he also ended up being arrested as a suspect for arson.
Mr Kakouris was remanded in custody for 11 months until 11 July, when an Athens court unanimously found him not guilty.
“I’m not celebrating; I’m bitter and need time to adjust,” the Greek Australian who has been calling Athens home since 8 told Ekathimerini.
The 44-year-old watched the Olympics on TV on 3 August last year, and the program was interrupted by an emergency alert reporting the fire in Varibobi, East Attica.
Without overthinking, he got dressed and rushed to the nearest fire front transporting a horse from the Varibobi Equestrian Club to safety by wrapping his towel around its neck, followed by helping residents save their houses until the soles of his shoes melted from the high temperature. Seeing he was barefoot, one of the residents gave him a pair of boots to wear, according to the report.
Mr Kakouris rested at the end of August 4 and returned to volunteer in the early hours of August 6. That is when a car of volunteers roadblocked him and, without questioning him, they handed him over to police officers.
“I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong,” he said, explaining that there had been a report on a suspect on a motorbike similar to his lighting fires in the area.
When the witness was called to identify him, he testified that it was not the same man he had seen, nor was it the same vehicle.
Even though no evidence was found on him during his arrest, no further investigation was made by the arresting officers.
Mr Kakouris was put in custody over the deposition of the main prosecution witness, and another volunteer claimed that new fires broke out from the points where Mr Kakouris had passed him.
Despite the only proof indicating Mr Kakouris aiding rescuers and residents and helping save local wildlife, the Greek Australian man remained in custody for arson with the intent on three occasions.
He was formally charged with starting the Krioneri cemetery fire on 4 August, and two more blazes destroyed the Madri area of Krioneri on 6 August.
Mr Kakouris was transferred to Korydallos prison, where mostly foreign prisoners are kept. Terrified, he evaded leaving his cell and only went to the yard for the first time after the first 21 days into his sentence. Two months into his punishment, he started working in the prison canteen.
“I tried to fill my everyday life, to get a routine so that I didn’t think about it and let it get me down. I felt enormous bitterness whenever I thought about it,” he said.
It wasn’t until his attorneys Nikolaos Loukopoulos, and Thrasyvoulos Kontaxis presented the full report of hard evidence from the Fire Department that Mr Kakouris was found unanimously not guilty by three judges and was released from Prison.
The Greek Fire Department had informed the Prosecutor’s Office that the fire in Varibobi started from a high-voltage pillar, citing “faulty control and maintenance” as the cause.
During the trial, the chief justice spoke of a miscarriage of justice and hoped for me to continue helping others and to be myself. Kakouris answered I do not know if I can do that. I don’t want to be somewhere with a lot of people.”
“I can talk about it, but I don’t know if it helps or makes me stay trapped in this situation. For so long in prison, I sought my freedom; while I have obtained it, I still have a long way to go. I won’t go near a fire again. Only if it flared near me, at 50 or 100 meters, would I go to help,” Mr Kakouris said.