A major recovery operation is being planned to remove almost 200 cars — up to 45 of them completely gutted — following a car park blaze which is set to cost millions.
Douglas Village Shopping Centre, whose anchor tenants include Marks and Spencer, Tesco Extra, and TK Maxx and which is home to many independently-owned retailers, remains closed today, with traders facing an anxious wait for engineering reports.
But the badly damaged four-storey, 1,006-space car park is facing long-term closure, possibly up to three months, after key parts of its steel superstructure and at least two floors buckled during Saturday night’s intense blaze. There are fears that level two is on the brink of collapse.
A total of 193 cars are still parked inside and arrangements are being made to remove them using cranes over the coming days.
While Garda investigations into the cause of the blaze are ongoing, footage shot by shoppers inside the car park shows a blazing seven-seater people carrier parked on level one at around 7pm.
It was seen entering the car park moments earlier, with smoke pouring from it.
Its owner became aware of the issue and was among several people to raise the alarm with the shopping centre’s customer service desk. Gardaí have spoken to its owner but they are still working to identify its exact make and model.
The fire spread rapidly to adjoining parked cars, causing severe damage to at least 60, with at least 45 completely gutted.
Superintendent Colm O’Sullivan, who visited the scene yesterday morning, appealed to anyone with dash-cam or mobile phone footage from level one of the car park around the time of the fire to contact gardaí at Anglesea St.
It took up to 50 fire-fighters from across the city and county almost four hours to bring the blaze under control. They were widely praised for preventing the blaze from spreading to the adjoining shopping centre.
The damage to the retail area was limited to minor smoke and water issues at a handful of retail units.
As engineers inspected the damaged car park yesterday, shopping centre management set up a helpline, 087-950 9800, for affected car-owners to make contact.
Footages shows the extent of the damage to cars, the structure of the building and the conditions and heat f/f’s were faced with when they entered the building
On scene we had
7 Pumping Appliances
2 Control Units
1 WaterTankerSeptember 1, 2019
Staff were also assigned to the entrances to deal with any queries people may have, with others assigned to deal with queries via the centre’s online channels.
Centre manager Bartosz Mieszala said they have an emergency team overseeing the response to the incident and are awaiting engineering reports before the logistics for the car removal operation are finalised.
He thanked the emergency services for their swift response, and the affected motorists for their patience, and he said they will continue to liaise with their tenants and all affected by the incident, as soon as information is available.
But the long-term closure of the car park, which he said is absolutely critical to the success of the shopping centre, prompted concerns for retail jobs in the suburb, which was badly hit by a flood in 2012.
It also prompted calls on the city council to consider easing parking restrictions in the village while traders get back on their feet.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Mary Rose Desmond, who visited the scene yesterday morning, paid tribute to all the agencies involved in the fire-fighting operation, especially the firefighters.
She said the focus must now turn to getting the shopping centre open as quickly as possible, to secure the businesses, especially the large number of independent traders based there.
“We need to hear as soon as possible from the owners of the shopping centre about the extent of the damage and how quickly they can get the shops back in business,” she said.
She has been speaking to chief executive of Cork City Council, Ann Doherty, about what City Hall can do to support retailers in the village over the coming days.
“We are going to have to help the village and the businesses in any way we can. That might include a relaxing of the current parking regime in the village. But we will do everything we can to assist the businesses over the coming days.”
She also urged insurance companies to respond quickly to businesses and motorists affected by the fire.
“It was a very slow process after the 2012 flood and insurance companies will need to step up to the mark here,” she warned.
Update (12pm): Peter O'Keeffe, from Dennehy's gym in the shopping centre, has said they believe their gym escaped damage, although they have yet to gain access to the facility.
"Looking at it from what we can see on the cameras, etc., everything is fine," Mr O'Keeffe told Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1.
"We're trying to get updates from the centre to see whether we can get access to the gym. I suppose we're lucky in the sense that we have two other gyms in the city in Blackpool and Ballincollig so our members can carry on there."
The gym, which is based across levels two and three of the centre, employs around 15-20 staff.
"Hopefully we can open part of the building and get it up and running again but parking will be an issue," he added.
"It'll be very awkward. Peter Collins from Barry's bar was on the radio giving up his facilities around Douglas. I'm just hoping businesses in the locality and city council will come up with a plan."