Belgian police investigate Irish students’ fire deaths
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore describes the deaths as a horrific tragedy
Sara Gibadlo (left, age 19) of Oranmore, Co Galway, and Dace Zarina (22), from Co Longford, died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Leuven, Belgium, this morning. Both were Irish nationals, with Ms Gibadlo’s family originally from Poland and Ms Zarina’s family originally from Latvia. Sara Gibadlo (left, age 19) of Oranmore, Co Galway, and Dace Zarina (22), from Co Longford, died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Leuven, Belgium.
The Belgian authorities have launched an investigation following the deaths of two Irish students in a fire yesterday in the university town of Leuven.
Belgian police confirmed that the owner of the building which housed the students was interviewed yesterday afternoon. While the cause of the fire was accidental, police said the house was not registered with Belgian authorities as required by local law.
The victims were named yesterday as Dace Zarina (22) from Longford, and Sara Gibadlo (19) from Oranmore, Co Galway. They had moved to Belgium earlier in January for a 30-week placement at the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe. They were second-year students of hotel and catering management at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology’s main Galway campus.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore described the deaths today as a horrific tragedy. Speaking at the Labour Women’s conference in the Mansion House he said his thoughts and sympathies were with the girls’ families.
“ Our embassy is co-operating with the families and with the authorities in Belgium to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.
Neighbours described how they awoke to shouts in the early hours of morning as the fire, which appeared to start on the top floor, engulfed the building. A number of residents helped the eight survivors to escape using ladders. The survivors were discharged from hospital yesterday afternoon with no serious injuries.
Attempts to contact the institute’s director, Malachy Vallely, were unsuccessful yesterday. However, in a statement yesterday evening, the institute said the building was in compliance with all regulations and had been thoroughly inspected two years ago by officials from an insurance company. “The building was equipped with all the necessary safety arrangements such as fire alarm, fire extinguishers and escape ladder,” the statement said. It added it was providing assistance to the students who survived the fire.
Speaking at the scene of the fire yesterday, the mayor of Leuven said the house had not been registered as a student house, and hence had not been checked for conformity to fire regulations. In many student towns in Belgium, houses used as student residences must be registered and are subject to specific taxes.
GMIT said it was “aware” of reports of issues with the accommodation. However, it said its primary focus was on supporting the bereaved families.
GMIT college of tourism and arts head Cáit Noone described the two women as “very talented young students”, who were “both bright and creative”. She said that all students on the campus were in shock, and the mood was “very sombre”.
Most of the visiting Irish students are studying catering and hotel management, and their secondment forms part of work experience requirements.
The families of the victims arrived in Leuven yesterday evening. The Irish Embassy in Belgium has been providing assistance and is in contact with the Polish and Latvian embassies.