Man and woman fight for life after flat fire kills two
TWO men died and a man and a woman are fighting for their lives after a surprise birthday party ended in tragedy following an apartment blaze.
John Palmer (36) and Greg Lonergan (36) died in the fire at Granary Court apartments in Mallow, Co Cork, while Mr Palmer's twin brother, Chris (36), was last night fighting for his life in Cork University Hospital (CUH).
A fourth occupant of the flat, Rachel Crawshaw (30), was in serious condition and being treated for the effects of smoke inhalation. Gardai are keeping an open mind about the cause of the fire until the results of detailed forensic tests are known.
Local residents warned that but for the heroism of two gardai all four occupants of the town centre flats could have died. Garda Catriona O'Sullivan and Garda Liam Phillips were beaten back by heavy smoke in their brave attempts to rescue the two men remaining in the flat.
The tragedy unfolded when a person walking on St Joseph's Road near the apartments spotted smoke billowing from the complex at 12.20am yesterday.
The four friends had gathered in the flat the previous evening for an early celebration of Mr Lonergan's 37th birthday, which falls today.
The pedestrian raised the alarm and Gda O'Sullivan and Gda Phillips raced to the scene.
They managed to force open a rear door and battled billowing smoke to get upstairs and drag two of the occupants to safety. However, their repeated efforts to re-enter the flat were frustrated by extreme heat and thickening smoke.
Mallow fire brigade members were on the scene within minutes and officers using breathing apparatus were able to drag the two trapped men outside.
Despite desperate efforts to revive them, both were pronounced dead before they could be transferred to hospital.
John Palmer is originally from Dublin but had been living locally for some time.
His twin brother, Chris, had joined him on Wednesday evening. Mr Lonergan is from just outside Mallow and was described as a very popular man who was known throughout the area as a keen sports fan.
The scene was sealed off by gardai to allow for a technical examination to determine the precise cause of the blaze.
The fire caused substantial damage to the flat and fire brigade units were at the scene for over three hours.
An area near the complex was the target of an arson attack two weeks ago but detectives believe the two incidents are unconnected.
Supt Pat McCarthy paid tribute to the heroism of his two officers who did everything they could to save all four occupants.
"They found a man unconscious on the landing outside the flat and as they were taking him downstairs they heard cries for help coming from inside the apartment," Supt McCarthy said. "They went back inside and found a woman lying on the ground. They managed to bring her outside but despite their best efforts to fight their way back into the flat, they were beaten back by the smoke and heat."
After being treated for the effects of smoke inhalation at CUH, both gardai were sent home to recover.