Sunday 25 August 2019

'I kicked in the door but felt myself burning' - man tells of desperate attempt to save Carrickmines victims

Inquest is ongoing

Pictured: Some of the victims of the deadly Carrickmines fire
Pictured: Some of the victims of the deadly Carrickmines fire
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

A man told how he made desperate attempts to rescue his 10 family members who died in the Carrickmines halting site fire.

Jim Connors Junior told gardai he was woken by his wife Katie's screams in the early hours of October 10, 2015, and saw his brother Thomas's portacabin ablaze.

"I could see the flames from my back door. The flames were in the kitchen of Thomas and Sylvia's cabin," the inquest in Dublin heard.

"I went to the front door and kicked it in.

Devastation: The scene of the fire at Carrickmines in 2015. Photo: David Conachy
Devastation: The scene of the fire at Carrickmines in 2015. Photo: David Conachy

"I could feel myself burning and I had to go back out."

He said he broke a window of a bedroom to try and let the smoke out and reached in to try and grab someone out.

"I reached into the bed that I knew was there. I couldn't see anything with the smoke. It was all smoke then.

"I grabbed a child by the clothes and just reached backwards."

Scene of the fire in which 10 people lost their lives
Scene of the fire in which 10 people lost their lives

Dublin coroner's court heard this was baby Mary, the youngest victims of the tragedy.

Earlier, a taxi driver who came upon the fire at the Carrickmines halting site said the flames were the height of a two-storey house.

Christopher Cleary said the blaze had already taken hold when he was flagged down by a man as he drove along the Glenamuck Road at around 4.30am on October 10, 2015.

He told Dublin Coroner's Court that the man, who had no top on and appeared to be wearing pyjama bottoms, said: "You have to stop and help us."

"I could see large flames. The fire had well taken hold at that stage," he told the inquest. "The flames were around the height of a two-storey house."

Mr Cleary used his mobile phone to ring 999.

Five adults and five children died after the blaze broke out at the temporary halting site at Glenamuck Road, Carrickmines, Dublin.

The fire claimed the lives of Thomas Connors (28), his wife Sylvia (30), and their children Jim (5), Christy (3), and five-month-old Mary.

Willie Lynch (25), who was visiting the site that night, died alongside his pregnant partner Tara Gilbert (27), and their daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4).

Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Sylvia and Willie who was also a visitor to the site, also perished in the blaze.

The inquest into the 10 deaths has previously heard that gardai believe a chip pan left on a hot plate was the cause of the fire.

The blaze spread rapidly from the portacabin belonging to Thomas and Sylvia to a neighbouring unit that was one metre away.

All 10 victims died from acute carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation.

Mr Cleary told Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane he couldn't be sure what was on fire.

"By the time I got there the flames were very high. I assumed it was a dwelling or a building of some sort," he said.

A 14-year-old boy has also told how he bravely climbed into a burning portacabin to try and rescue his family.

John Keith Connors rescued Thomas Connors (who was then four-years-old) but was unable to lift Thomas's unconscious parents, Thomas Senior and Sylvia, from the floor.

John Keith was giving evidence at the inquests into the deaths of 10 people in the Carrickmines halting site tragedy.

He climbed in through a broken bedroom window but was unable to see due to the thick black smoke. He felt around and said he identified his brother, Thomas Snr, from the texture of his t-shirt, and Sylvia from her leggings.

The teenager then found Thomas Jnr and passed him out the window to waiting family members.

A fire extinguisher was passed into him but he said he couldn't get it to work.

By this stage the fire was so bad he was forced to retreat outside.

He said Thomas Jnr was still alive when he brought him out.

"I had Tom in my arms. He was trying to breath. He was making choking noises."

He carried the little down the road where he met arriving emergency services who took him off him and put an oxygen mask on his face.

In a statement to gardai, Jim Connors Senior, told how his 14-year-old son John Keith got in through a window of the burning cabin and "handed me out Thomas".

Thomas Connors, now age seven,  miraculously survived the blaze.

Jim Snr said he then told John Keith to come back out as he knew the teenager would die if he stayed in the blazing cabin any longer.

The inquest before a jury of eight men and four women continues.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News