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Tuesday 19 February 2019

Boy (14) who saved nephew from inferno 'minute away from death'

Fire safety engineer David O’Connor gave evidence at the inquests into the ten people who died in the blaze. Photo: Colin Keegan
Fire safety engineer David O’Connor gave evidence at the inquests into the ten people who died in the blaze. Photo: Colin Keegan
Fire safety engineer David O’Connor gave evidence at the inquests into the ten people who died in the blaze

A brave 14-year-old boy who rescued his nephew from a blaze that killed 10 people was "extremely lucky" to survive, a fire safety expert has said.

John Keith Connors had a "tiny window" of opportunity to enter the burning mobile home and rescue Tom Connors at a halting site in Carrickmines, Co Dublin, on October 10, 2015.

He grabbed the four-year-old seconds before a "flash-over scenario" as a chip pan of oil boiled over, creating an inferno that engulfed the unit.

Fire safety engineer David O'Connor told Dublin Coroner's Court that the time frame within which anyone could be rescued was "very small".

"The flashover scenario created temperatures of between 500 and 600 degrees Celsius in the unit, with hot gases, smoke and carbon monoxide," he said.

"It was extremely lucky they could do it at that time. Another minute and they would not have been able to survive."

The mobile home, a former portable building that had been used as a security shed, was significantly more vulnerable to fire than a modern house, the court heard.

Its exterior was made of a metal lining from which the heat could not discharge, Mr O'Connor said.

"This became the equivalent of the articulated truck on fire," he said. "If it was timber, the timber would have failed and the heat escaped."

The fire spread to another unit less than a metre away.

The mobile homes were the responsibility of the occupants, Mr O'Connor told the court.

He noted that under Department of Environment Guidelines for Traveller Accommodation (1998) there should have been at least six metres between homes on the site.

The guidelines note that "temporary" sites providing Traveller accommodation should not exceed more than five years.

The Glenamuck Halting Site had been established as emergency temporary accommodation by Dun Laoghaire- Rathdown Council in 2008.

Risks

Safety guidance issued in the wake of the fire, on December 2, 2015, advises the provision of escape windows and, where a minimum distance of six metres between units is unavailable, a firewall should be installed.

Dublin Fire Brigade's Acting Chief Fire Officer, Denis Keeley, agreed that mobile homes and caravans carried particular fire risks.

The jury heard the chip pan that caused the fire was sitting on a hot plate powered on to the highest setting. The cooker was relatively new and no electrical faults were detected, the inquest was told.

Asked by the coroner if this was the definite cause of the fire, Mr O'Connor replied it was. "In our belief this definitely caused the fire," he said.

CCTV footage revealed the fire started at 4.15am. The inquest heard that within minutes, the inferno had spread through the entire unit.

Emergency services arrived at 4.34am. The second mobile home caught fire between 4.34 and 4.38am.

Thomas Connors (27), his wife Sylvia (30) and their sons Jimmy (5) and Christy (3) were recovered from the main bedroom after the fire.

Willie Lynch (25), his pregnant partner Tara Gilbert (27) and their two daughters, Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4), were recovered from a second, smaller bedroom.

Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Willie Lynch, was removed from the kitchen area. Baby Mary Connors, daughter of Thomas and Sylvia, was pronounced dead in hospital.

The inquest into all 10 deaths continues on Monday.

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