Former residents recall fire at Mountjoy Square building
Ex-tenants facing problems sourcing new accommodation after north inner city blaze
Residents of the building that went on fire on Mountjoy Square last week pictured outside the premises: Dayane Silva and Laís Souza, Brazil, Jehan Fouquet, France, Lirlanda Freites and Yara Silva, Brazil. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
As she gasped for air in her smoke-filled apartment, Laís Souza from Brazil was afraid she might not survive to see her family again.
The teacher came to Ireland a year ago to improve her language skills and is studying at two different institutions and holding down a job in a restaurant.
She and her boyfriend Jehan Fouquet, from France, were among several dozen people rescued from the fourth floor of a building on Mountjoy Square in north Dublin early last Tuesday morning.
They have been staying in a nearby hostel, but they have to be out today, and now have nowhere to go.
It was claimed last week in the Dáil, following the fire, that there were 150 people living in the building, but Mr Fouquet estimates it was about 70. It was difficult to tell, he says.
On Thursday morning, the now former tenants were coming and going, lugging heavy suitcases and boxes on to the footpath outside.
They hugged and talked, and friends helped haul their belongings away to new, temporary homes.
Another resident, Mirko Jankovic, said he had heard a fire alarm on the morning of the blaze but had ignored it because it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the building.
“I woke up in the room full of smoke. [My flatmates] started yelling and screaming ‘Mirko, wake up there is a fire’!” he said.
The 30-year-old restaurant worker from Croatia said he looked outside and the smoke appeared to be coming from the lower floors at the back of the Georgian house.
On Friday, he reclaimed his possessions. He is staying on a friend’s couch, he said, but is sad to have lost a home he liked in the city, and is not sure what he will do now. Accommodation is hard to find.
“For me it’s difficult to get an apartment for myself. I don’t know what I will do,” said Mr Jankovic.
He got €200 from the State and his deposit and two weeks’ rent back from the management company. He had been sharing a two-bed apartment, for which they paid €1,600 a month, he said.
Ms Souza, who lived on the fourth floor with Mr Fouquet and three female flatmates, remembers in “flashes” what happened on the night.
“Sometimes when I tell people what happened, it’s just a flash and I just remember the smoke all the time and the feeling that maybe we couldn’t be rescued in time,” she says.
“It’s a kind of nightmare, you know. You came to a country to restart and to improve your skills and you think you are maybe not coming back to see your family. I am here just one year and some months and I just really wanted to survive to see my family again.”
She and Mr Fouquet don’t know where they will go next. “It’s very hard to find a vacancy anywhere, especially because we are so close to St Patrick’s Day now, so everywhere is fully booked,” says Ms Souza.
The cause of the fire is being investigated by both the Garda and Dublin Fire Brigade.
A spokeswoman for Rothmount Ltd, the management company for the three buildings – numbers 1 and 2 Mountjoy Square and the adjoining 69 Gardiner Street – said that they were helping the tenants .
Deposits and recently paid rent had been returned, and temporary B&B accommodation was provided for those with nowhere to go. A pregnant woman was put up in a hotel, the spokeswoman added. “We are trying to make it as easy as possible for them,” she said. “The place is closed so we can’t let them in again.”
Rothmount Ltd exited receivership last September and had carried out a number of upgrades to the building in recent years.
The buildings were valued at that time at €2.7 million and had turned a profit of just under €16,000, following losses in the previous year. Total liabilities exceeded assets by just over €2 million. It entered receivership with Deloitte & Touche in 2014.
Despite those troubles, the company is understood to be completely satisfied with the conditions of the buildings it resumed control of last year. It has also dismissed concerns raised regarding the number of people living there, saying it had leases on 34 apartments with 64 tenants.
Local Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe has called for a council investigation into the buildings, following what he described as a “carbon copy” incident 10 years ago in 2006, which led to 10 people being treated in hospital. “It is a miracle that no one was killed in either fire,” he said.
He has submitted a motion to next week’s council meeting requesting support for a formal inquiry.