Two Irish students from GMIT killed in fire in Belgium

Eight others rescued after blaze at student residence near college in Leuven


Two female students from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) have died in a fire at a residence linked to a college in Belgium this morning.

They have been named as Dace Zarina (22) from Co Longford, and Sara Gibadlo (19) from Oranmore, Co Galway.

Both were Irish nationals, with Ms Zarina’s family originally from Latvia and Ms Gibadlo’s family originally from Poland. GMIT said they were the only two students from the college on placement in the Belgian college this month.

GMIT has offered its sincere condolences to the families of the two students, who were both in their second year and studying a bachelor of business degree in hotel and catering management at the main Galway campus. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has also sympathised with the families of the two young women on behalf of the Irish people.

They were part of a group of Irish students in the Erasmus scheme at the Leuven Institute, where GMIT students have been attending for the last six years.

In a statement, GMIT said that its students and staff are “trying to come to terms with the tragic news this morning”.

The women’s bodies were found in a red brick building which was serving as a student residence on Bank Straat in Leuven shortly after 9am.

Eight other students, including six Irish nationals, were rescued from the fire in the university city.

A 21-year-old student told The Irish Times how she and other neighbours had helped some of the residents escape shortly after 6am.

“I woke up because a girl was screaming. I checked what it was and [saw] it was a fire, so I went outside and the neighbours from next door had already come out.

“One guy was stuck on the first floor so the neighbours from the other side brought a ladder so he could come down. Another girl came down from the roof from the house next door and waited there [and] the firemen took her off the roof.”

The residence is connected to the Irish College in Leuven which is located approximately 20kms east of Brussels.

The fire is understood to have started shortly after 6am and it took firefighters three hours to bring it under control. Part of the roof of the building collapsed during the fire.

Speaking during a visit to Cork today, the Taoiseach said he was deeply saddened by the news. "I would like to extend the sympathies of the Government and the Irish people to the families of Ms Zarina and Ms Gibadlo who lost their lives in the fire tragedy in Leuven," he said.

Ireland’s ambassador to Belgium, Eamonn Mac Aodha, who has visited the scene, said: “What we know is that there was a very tragic event last night. It seems that 10 people were in the building, and two lost their lives.

“The cause of the fire is unclear. Fire scene investigators have started an examination of the building.”

It is understood all ten students, including the two victims, were third level students in Ireland and may have been studying courses in catering and tourism.

The building which housed the students is located about 15 minutes walk from the Irish Institute in Leuven.

It is understood the house where the fire took place , which is not an official student residence, is regularly used to house students from Ireland who are connected with the Irish College at Leuven.

Police and firefighters are at the scene and an investigation is underway into the cause of the fire.

The Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe said in a statement this evening that the building underwent inspection two years ago and was found to have all necessary safety measures in place.

"The building which was destroyed this morning by the fire was in compliance with all the regulations. Two years ago the building was thoroughly inspected by officials from the insurance company.  The building was equipped with all the necessary safety arrangements such as fire alarm, fire extinguishers and escape ladder," the statement read.