A COUNTY WEXFORD student was the second-last person to escape a horror fire in Belgium which claimed the lives of two fellow students from Ireland.
Maurice Redmond (21) from Gorey has this week described his ordeal and paid tribute to all those who supported him in his recovery. He told how he woke up choking and gasping for air in the student residence near the Irish College in the university city of Leuven, 16 miles east of Brussels at 6 a.m. on Friday January 31.
He was staying on the first floor of the student house which contained ten students. Three male students lived on the ground floor; three males lived on the first floor; and four female students on the second floor.
'I wasn't woken up by the fire alarm. Instead I just woke up choking and gasping for air,' he recalled. 'I went to my bedroom door and opened it to see what the noise was as I just thought it was the fire alarm from next door going off.'
'In front of me I saw the entire room next to mine on my right was engulfed with fire. This was where the fire started,' he continued. 'The stairs leading to the ground floor were on fire. The landing was also engulfed with fire.'
'The entire landing was filled with smoke and I was choking and not able to see very far in front of me,' he said. 'I screamed to see if anyone was still in the house to help them but I got no reply. I grabbed a towel to cover my mouth and made my way to the stairs that led up to the second floor, to see if anyone was up there, but the stairs to the second floor were on fire.'
'The second floor was the floor that the two girls passed away on, and two other girls managed to escape. I was struggling to breathe at this stage,' he said.
Dace Zarina (22) from Longford and Sara Gibadlo (19), from Oranmore, Galway, were later found upstairs by fire crews.
Maurice made his way back to his room and opened his window. 'The drop from my window to the ground is about 16 foot and it's a cobbled street,' he said. 'I grabbed my mattress and threw it out the window to break my fall a bit.'
'One other person got out of the house alive after I did,' he added. 'Eight people survived and two girls passed away. Everyone on the first and second floor lost everything that they owned including clothes, laptops, camera and wallets. But at least we managed to escape with our lives.'