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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019
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Chip pan turned into 'molten lump of aluminium' by Carrickmines blaze

Earlier the inquest heard that when firefighters first arrived at the scene, the portacabin was “engulfed in fire”.

Dublin Fire Brigade firefighter and advanced paramedic Ray Martin who was among the first emergency workers on the scene.
Dublin Fire Brigade firefighter and advanced paramedic Ray Martin who was among the first emergency workers on the scene.
Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Jan 16th 2019, 5:02 PM

AN INQUEST INTO the deaths of ten people in a fire at a halting site in Carrickmines has heard a chip pan on a cooker in the portacabin where the first started had been melted into a lump on the hob. 

Detective Garda Shane Curran, a member of the Garda Technical Bureau, said the kitchen/living room held the “area of most intense burning”. 

He said the suggestion was that the fire had been burning for a long time in that area. The two bedrooms showed less evidence of burning indicating the fire had moved from the kitchen and down the hallway to the two bedrooms where most of the victims were sleeping, he explained.

Curran said there was the remnants of a chip pan on one of the hobs which had been turned into a “molten lump of aluminium”.

The netted steel basket was sitting on top. He told coroner Dr Myra Cullinane that aluminium normally melts at 650 degrees Celsius, while steel melts at a much higher temperature which is why the basket and a steel teapot on another hob were intact. 

Detective garda Curran also said that the activation spindle for the hob the pan had been sitting on indicated it had been on during the fire. However he said that he could not conclusively rule out that this had been moved during the fire, for example by the pressurised water used to put the blaze out. 

The jury heard from Curran that with chip pan fires, once the pan melts the oil usually splashes down the back of the appliance.

In this case, he said there was evidence of “some sort of residue down the back of the cooker”. Fire damage to electrical wiring near the cooker also indicated this was where the blaze has started as this was the point at which the fuse was tripped.

He said debris from all rooms in the portacabin had been tested for traces of other accelerants like petrol but there were “no other obvious initial sources”.

Curran gave evidence of research that found 80% of people who die in domestic house fires normally die of smoke inhalation. Dr Cullinane said the families “can understand all of their loved ones were almost certainly unconscious” before the flames reached them. 

The victims of the fire at Glenamuck halting site in Carrickmines were Thomas Connors (28) his wife Sylvia (30) and their children Jim (5), Christy (3), and five-month-old Mary.

Willie Lynch (25) and his partner Tara Gilbert (27) who was pregnant, and their daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4) also perished.

Jimmy Lynch (39), Sylvia and Willie’s brother, also died in the blaze. Members of the Lynch family had been visiting the Connors and were staying with Thomas and Sylvia.

‘Extreme heat’

At the Dublin Coroner’s Court this morning, the jury heard from Ray Martin from Dublin Fire Brigade, who was among the first emergency workers on the scene on the morning of 10 October 2015. 

He said he was met by a man who said ‘You have to help them, please help them’.

The portacabin where the victims had been sleeping was “engulfed in fire” at this stage, he said.

Martin said that his attention was drawn soon after his arrival on the scene to the fact that a second unit was on fire and that there was a baby in one of the bedrooms. 

He and a colleague entered the unit wearing breathing apparatus for what he described as a “snatch rescue”, which means they did not have a water hose inside with them to push back the fire. He said there was “extreme heat, constantly” inside the unit. 

Martin said he located baby Mary in the bedroom where she had earlier been placed by her aunt Kathleen after she was rescued from her parent’s burning unit.

The inquest heard yesterday that the baby had been breathing noisily when she was initially taken out of the first unit. However emergency workers said when baby Mary was taken from Kathleen’s home after the fire had spread to it, there were no obvious signs of life. 

“I took the baby off the bed, cradled her to me and took her to the door,” Martin said in his evidence. 

There were burn marks on her face and both forearms.

Martin, who is also an advanced paramedic, said he went to a National Ambulance Service ambulance, which was the only one at the scene at the time, to start working on the baby with two other paramedics. 

At this time, a NAS paramedic was already working on four-year-old Tom who had been rescued from the blaze by his 14-year-old uncle John Keith Connors. 

The firefighter said the baby’s eyes were closed, there was no movement in her chest and her arms and legs were limp. Paramedics administered medication and started chest compressions. Both Tom and the five-month-old baby were taken to Tallaght hospital. 

Tom received treatment and survived but the jury today heard that baby Mary had no pulse on arrival. 

The inquest heard that, aside from the case of baby Mary, DNA testing was relied upon for the identification of the victims as the condition of the bodies precluded visual identification. 

Rescue attempts

Yesterday the inquest heard from members of the Connors family who were on the site when the fire broke out. They spoke of their attempts to rescue the victims from the blaze.

Jim Connors Jr, the brother of victim Thomas Connors, said he broke one of the bedroom windows, climbed onto a wooden pallet and felt around inside to see if he could help anyone out.

“I grabbed a child by clothes and just reached backwards out of window,” he said. This child was baby Mary Connors, who was five months old.

The jury also heard how 14-year-old John Keith Connors went in and pulled then four-year-old Tom Connors – who survived – out of the unit that was on fire.

John said he held his breath and had to keep his eyes closed because of the smoke when he climbed in the bedroom window. At this stage the flames were in the hallway.

“I couldn’t hear any noises from anyone, just the noise of the fire. I knew Sylvia was by the door, I felt Sylvia’s leg, but I couldn’t move her. I tried to lift Thomas but I couldn’t.”

Over the first two days of the inquest there was conflicting evidence from family members and council executives and contractors about whether there was electrical work on Thomas Connors’ unit on 9 October 2015, the day before the fire.

A number of family members said they had either been told by Thomas about workers at his home or had seen people doing work at his home that day.

Yesterday Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s director of housing and community Tom McHugh told the coroner that there is no evidence from caretakers, electrical contractors or invoices of any service work being carried out that day.

When questioned by the council’s legal representation about why they had never mentioned this electrical work to gardaí in their statements, family members said they gardaí did not ask them about whether any work had been done in the days before the fire.

The inquest continues tomorrow. 

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