Sunday 20 January 2019

Tea light set off blaze that killed four at apartment

Stock photo
Stock photo

Louise Roseingrave

A devastating fire that killed three young children and a pregnant woman began with a tea light candle, an inquest heard.

Annmarie O'Brien (27), who was eight months pregnant, her daughter Paris (2), her niece Holly O'Brien (22 months) and nephew Jordan McGinn (4) died in the fire in Clondalkin, Dublin 22, on March 8, 2017.

The seat of the fire was located to a shelf under a TV in the living room and tea lights were found in debris there, Dublin Coroner's Court heard.

Annmarie's cousin Biddy O'Brien was the sole survivor of the fire. She was also mother to Jordan and Holly.

She told an inquest that she visited Annmarie, who was living with her daughter Paris in supported accommodation, every week.

She arrived at the apartment before Annmarie on March 7, 2017. Annmarie attended a hospital appointment and arrived home around 6.30pm.

The children went to bed at 9pm. Biddy said the pair drank a box of beer between them and listened to music.

She said Annmarie loved tea lights but there was none burning that night.

"I remember lying down on the couch. I remember Annmarie going to her bed. After that, nothing," Biddy said.

Neighbours heard the building's central fire alarm go off at 2.30am. They banged on Annmarie's door before taking their children out of the complex.

Members of Dublin Fire Brigade entered the apartment wearing breathing apparatus.

"Visibility was zero. Dave [a fellow firefighter] found a baby in a nappy. He picked up the child and left the building. I found a child, either standing up or sitting on the couch, a little girl. I left with the child and handed her to a firefighter," firefighter Keith Conroy said.

All five of the occupants were rushed to two hospitals, but four of them were pronounced dead some time later.

Forensic examiner Paul Collins investigated the fire.

"The fire was an accident and mostly likely the consequence of a lit tea light or candle setting fire to a large TV screen," he said, adding that hot gases from the burning flame set the TV alight. "It's very quick. Once the plastic goes on fire it generates vast quantities of black smoke."

Two fire alarms had been dismantled and were hanging down with batteries removed. A third inside the front door was operating, he said.

A neighbour told the inquest she and Annmarie had tampered with the fire alarm in the kitchen prior to the fire.

"It went off one day when she was cooking. We got up on a chair and tried to turn it off but it wouldn't go off. We fiddled with it. Eventually it went off by itself," the neighbour said.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned verdicts of accidental death for all who died in the fire, including Annmarie's unborn baby AJ.

"The very fact of going through so many verdicts in relation to tiny babies, it's very moving. I offer my deep condolences on your tragic loss," the coroner said.

Irish Independent

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