Fire victims found huddled in wardrobe

Belgian public prosecutors and police are investigating if the house in which two Irish students died in a blaze had a fire safety certificate.

The city’s mayor said the house was not on the official register but a statement from the owners said it fulfilled all the requirements.

The bodies of the women, Sara Gibadlo, 19, from Oranmore in Galway and Dace Zarina, 22, from Longford, were reportedly found huddled together in a wardrobe in their first-floor bedroom.

Family members were due to arrive in Belgium last night. Dace’s family are originally from Latvia, while Sara’s are Polish.

The classmates had just begun their 30-week work placement in the historic Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe as part of their degree in catering and hotel management in the Galway- Mayo Institute of Technology.

Eight other catering students from other Irish colleges, also on placement, succeeded in getting out of the three-storey house that was quickly engulfed in flames shortly after 5am Irish time yesterday

Still in pyjamas, one got through a skylight onto the roof, another was taken from an upstairs window by a neighbour with a ladder, and the others got onto the street safely.

A member of the institute’s board, Louis Roppe, said the alarm in the building went off, alerting the students to the fire. He also said the house had fire extinguishers on every floor and a fire escape ladder.

However, he said it was not a student house: “The building is rented by the institute for people who come to work as trainees in the institute. It has seven rooms and is not a student house.”

Police said they did not believe the fire was started maliciously, but a team of forensic experts were picking their way through the burnt-out shell yesterday.

The city’s mayor, Louis Tobback, told the media after visiting the site: “We have no file on the property for the last two years so it was not registered as a students residence and would not have been checked for fire safety in the last five years.”

Irish ambassador to Belgium Eamonn Mac Aodha talked to the eight female students who survived. “They were largely unharmed but very traumatised,” he said.

They were taken to hospital but discharged soon after. The institute’s director, Malachy Vallely, was organising alternative accommodation for them and helping them replace their clothing and some belongings, all of which were destroyed in the fire. He was not available for comment.


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