Latest: Douglas Village carpark to be demolished next week; Uncertain when shops can reopen

Almost 200 cars remain inside the structure. A process to remove this will begin this week, management confirmed.

Latest: Douglas Village carpark to be demolished next week; Uncertain when shops can reopen

Update 7.30pm: The management of Douglas Village shopping centre said the section of carpark damaged by fire will need to be demolished.

It took up to 50 firefighters almost four hours and millions of gallons of water to bring the massive carpark inferno in Cork City under control on Saturday night.

Almost 200 cars remain inside the structure. A process to remove this will begin this week, management confirmed.

"The process of removing customer and staff cars will commence Wednesday September 4. It will be a slow process with a possible completion time of seven days. We will be in direct contact with all car owners," management said.

The area of car park affected by the blaze will be demolished next week, after which a timeline to reopen the shopping centre can be established.

"Due to the intense nature of the fire, the structural integrity of the affected area has been compromised and needs to be demolished for safety reasons as soon as possible. Our team of consultants have instructed us that access to the centre will not be safe until demolition is complete. We are proceeding with the demolition phase as fast as possible and hope to start the process next week.

"The ESB will be cutting power to the centre and all the shops. We do not yet know the full scope and hence duration of the demolition phase and we hope to have much firmer information as demolition progresses.

"Demolition must take place before we can estimate when the centre can reopen."

Management thanked the public for its "continued support and patience".

Digital Desk

Earlier: Cork shopping centre owner learned of fire while away in West Cork

Update 6.24pm: Clayton Love, owner of Douglas Village Shopping Centre, was in Baltimore, West Cork, on Saturday night, when he got a call around 7pm from the centre’s duty manager, Dan Coleman, to tell him the premises was on fire.

It took him straight back to a call he received on June 28, 2012 when major floods wreaked havoc, forcing a 12-day closure of the centre that his father, Clayton Love Jnr, had built in the 1970s.

Mr Love spent Saturday evening “live” on the phone with Mr Coleman who kept him abreast of what was happening. He arrived on site on Sunday to survey the damage, most obvious on Level One of the multistorey carpark where the fire had started, and where about 50 cars were burnt.

He was back on site again yesterday morning to allow Lord Mayor John Sheehan and Cork City Council CEO Ann Doherty inspect the damage, along with a handful of local councillors, officers of Cork City Fire Service (CCFS) and centre manager Bartosz Mieszala. I was permitted to tag along.

Donning hard hats and high-vis jackets we entered the building via Church St where the stench of smoke was still strong and rows of shutters closed off Tesco’s supermarket. Further down to the right, near technology shop Cex, pools of water were visible on the floor.

Victor Shine, CCFS second officer, said about seven shop units suffered water damage, some as a result of water used to fight the fire, others because their sprinkler systems had activated. All of the ground floor section has sprinkler systems which activate when a certain temperature is reached. They did not activate in Tesco’s supermarket because that section of the building was not as exposed to intense heat.

At the top of the travelator leading onto Level One, we surveyed the devastation from behind a cordon.

To our right was a gaping hole in the side wall of the car park. In the middle of the section on the Marks and Spencers end of the building, were rows of scorched cars that looked like they might crumble at the slightest touch.

One was wrapped in what looked like clingwrap - the car thought to have caused the blaze.

Mr Shine said forensics were in the building on Sunday and had identified and photographed the vehicle. When they figure out a way to remove it safely, it will be impounded and examined, he said.

A considerable amount of ingenuity will be required to figure out how to safely removed circa 190 vehicles from the building. The heat caused supporting steel beams in the affected section to fail, in turn causing the floor of Level Two to buckle - in a manner not unlike a mini earthquake.

The option of driving cars to the open roof and having them removed by cranes may be possible for the cars parked on the Tesco supermarket end of Level One where they can travel up the ramps, but how to extract about 15 cars parked near Dennehy’s Gym on Level 2, where the buckled floor blocks safe passage to the exit ramp, could take a faculty of engineers to resolve.

“The question is how do you get cars across the affected space?” Mr Shine said.

Level 3 is unaffected by the blaze but again contains parked cars with no solution yet in place to return them to their owners.

Mr Love said the most important thing for car owners, when their cars are returned, is to bring them straight to a garage for a thorough inspection.

“The other challenge is how do we get back trading,” he said.

The portion of roof affected is over the service yard, where shopping centre deliveries are made. Another issue to be looked at is whether the shopping centre has enough exits in the event of emergency should the carpark remain closed.

It’s a big job. It’s not what the eye can see. It’s not a question of levelling out and filling in. It’s a question of the integrity of the building. The affected portion of the carpark is a health and safety risk.

"That portion may come down on its own or it may have to be taken down,” Mr Love said.

Teams of experts are in assessing the damage this week and Mr Love said they will work with the City Council - in whose bailiwick Douglasfalls following the boundary extension - to see what can be done to get the shopping centre back on its feet and to help traders in the area:

“We will be advised on what the best way of dealing with it is. We will work with the City. There will be no shortcuts but we have to wait until they [the experts] tell us what to do."

“This is not an easy job. An element of the carpark has to be taken down and replaced and that’s what we have to figure out.”

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