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Saturday 16 February 2019

Killed in just 15 minutes... 650C flames tore through halting site

Burnt-out mobile homes at the Glenamuck halting site, Carrickmines
Burnt-out mobile homes at the Glenamuck halting site, Carrickmines

A horrific fire that claimed 10 lives at a Dublin halting site reached temperatures of more than 650C.

Detectives gave evidence of the recovery of nine bodies from the extensively burnt mobile home where Thomas Connors, his wife Sylvia and their five children lived at the Glenamuck halting site in Carrickmines.

The blaze ignited and spread rapidly from the kitchen through the mobile home, killing all nine occupants within 15 minutes.

It then spread through an upper window in the main bedroom to a second mobile home less than a metre away, shortly after 4am on October 10, 2015.

Four of the victims, identified as Thomas (27), Sylvia (30) and their sons Jimmy (5) and Christy (3), were recovered from the main bedroom.

Ignited

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

Jimmy Lynch (39) was removed from the kitchen area, near the seat of the fire, which ignited from hot oil in a chip pan on an electric cooker.

The pan was so badly burnt it was almost unrecognisable, Det Gda Shane Curran told Dublin Coroner's Court.

"The whole unit was subject to extreme fire damage, with the entire roof destroyed," he said.

"The kitchen was the most intense area of burning, particularly around the cooker area.

"There was a molten lump of aluminium on the rear right hot plate. There was a metal basket that had warped, suggesting a chip pan had been in place."

The court heard the chip pan was aluminium, which melts at 650C.

"The fire temperature was above that in this location. The remains of a chip pan was all but burnt away so as to be almost unrecognisable," Det Gda Curran said.

Gardai found the hot plate in the on position.

"The fact the chip pan had completely melted strongly suggests there was a sustained fire in that area. No other likely ignition source was found," Det Gda Curran added.

Family members left the courtroom as the jury heard evidence of how DNA was used to identify the victims' remains.

The inquest heard from Garda Christina O'Neill
The inquest heard from Garda Christina O'Neill

Detectives used the Interpol system to identify remains for the first time in a process coordinated by Deputy State Path- ologist Dr Margaret Bolster.

All nine bodies were found on the floor of the destroyed unit.

The court heard that carbon monoxide works its way down from ceiling height.

"Someone who stands up in these conditions could be quickly overcome by poisonous gases," Det Gda David O'Leary told the court.

The inquest heard details of how the fire spread through the mobile home, burning through closed bedroom doors before spreading to the next unit, where baby Mary Connors had been placed after she was recovered from the fire.

The distance between the two units was 81cm.

The inquest heard from the first gardai, paramedics and firefighters to arrive at the scene.

Unsupportive

"From the opposite side of the M50 there was substantial smoke visible and you could see flames," said Gda Christina O'Neill, who arrived at 4.38am.

Firefighters entered a burning structure on a "snatch rescue" mission to save six-month-old Mary.

She was found in a room in conditions described by firefighters as "unsupportive of life".

Firefighter Ray Martin told the third day of the inquest that he and his colleagues responded to a call at 4.20am.

He was moving the hose to the fire when a man in his 30s began helping him.

"He was saying, 'You have to help them, please help them'," Mr Martin said.

One mobile home was ablaze and flames were emerging from a second unit when he was told there was a baby inside.

"It was a snatch rescue rather than fire extinguisher operation," Mr Martin said.

The inquest heard evidence that a fire hydrant between 50 and 70 metres from the site was being used as a water supply.

There was one closer, but Mr Martin did not know why this was not used.

The crew had 8,000 litres of water stored on two fire appliances. This amounted to between eight and 10 minutes of water, Mr Martin said.

"The radiant heat was extremely intense," he said.

"There were flames top to bottom at the door. We attacked the fire at the door, knocked the flames back.

"A woman came and she said 'She's in there [the baby], she's on the bed'.

"There was a lot of thick smoke and heat, but I couldn't see flames.

"I went straight to the bed, I saw the baby lying on the bed with the duvet turned over beside her.

"I took the baby off the bed and cradled her and brought her to the door."

Mary was rushed to an ambulance where paramedics were treating her brother Tom (4), who had been pulled from the blaze by his 14-year-old uncle, John Keith Connors.

The baby displayed no signs of life, she was not breathing, and there was soot around her mouth and nose.

There were burn marks on her face and arms, the inquest heard.

Mary was rushed to Tallaght Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 5.31am.

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