'Miracle' nobody was injured in multi-storey car park blaze, Cork fire crews share photos of aftermath
EMERGENCY services admitted it was a miracle no-one was injured after a major blaze in a multi-storey car park which left 60 cars gutted or damaged and forced the evacuation and closure of a Cork shopping centre.
Douglas Village Shopping Centre remained closed as Cork Fire Brigade and Gardaí assessed the scale of the damage from the fire at 7pm on Saturday which required 12 brigade units to bring under control.
Fire fighters managed to prevent the fire spreading from the multi-storey car park to the shopping centre - though a major evacuation plan had to be triggered with the plume of black smoke pouring from the complex visible for 3km away.
Battling the blaze was a hugely complex task given the location and the difficulty in accessing the precise seat of the fire.
It is believed a people carrier parked on Level One of the multi-storey car park caught fire and its fuel tank then exploded, spreading the fire to other parked cars.
The fire quickly threatened to spread to nearby properties including the shopping centre.
One eye witness, Niamh McCarthy, said it was a shocking scene.
"I heard kind of like a bang - I actually thought it was fire crackers or something," she said.
"Then I saw that the escalators were turning off and people were coming out of the car park. There was no panic and people were very calm. Outside, by the Tesco exit, you could see plumes of black smoke pouring from the building."
Niamh's car was stranded in Level One of the car park and she was afraid it may have been one of those damaged by the spreading flames.
"I am supposed to fly out to Portugal today (Sunday). I hope it is OK because I only got it in May. But the important thing is that no one was hurt. That is what really matters."
Luckily, no one was seriously injured in the incident which is being treated as an accidental blaze.
The only reported injury was a leg sprain sustained by a fire fighter in battling the fire.
Emergency services, car park officials and shopping centre staff have been praised for the professional manner in which they responded to the incident.
Cork City Fire Brigade confirmed that its crews remain at the scene in Douglas monitoring the building.
They added that the fire was successfully contained to one section of burned out cars on the first floor of the car park.
However, hundreds of motorists have been unable to access cars parked on other levels located above the fire.
"The photos below show the extent to the grim reality of the morning after," Cork Fire Brigade wrote as they posted photos of the damage.
The fire occurred in a multi-storey parking area not far from popular stores including TK Max, Marks and Spencer as well as Tesco.
Multiple units of Cork Fire Brigade were deployed to control the blaze and prevent it from spreading.
Gardaí attended the scene and closed off streets in Douglas adjacent to where fire fighters were battling the inferno.
Cork Fire Brigade officials used social media to urge people to avoid the area.
"Large fire in Douglas Shopping Centre. Several units from around the city in attendance," one tweet stressed.
"Crews working very hard in heavy smoke and fire conditions to contain the fire. Please avoid the area to allow crews to access the building".
There is no indication when the shopping centre will be able to re-open and it is feared that the fire inflicted damage which could run to millions of Euro.
Douglas Village Shopping Centre manager Bartosz Mieszala paid tribute to his staff and the emergency services for dealing with the fire last Saturday night in such a professional manner.
However, the blaze which left 60 cars damaged or gutted in the multi-storey car park may have inflicted structural damage which now needs to be carefully assessed.
Because of the damage to Level One of the multi-storey car park adjacent to the shopping centre, cars parked on upper levels may have to be individual lifted out by special crane - a process that could take several days to complete.
"Obviously we were dealing with a major emergency," he said.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their patience. I want to thank Cork Fire Brigade, the Gardai and everyone else involved for their quick response and the fantastic work they have done since Saturday evening.
"This could have been much worse without them and without the quick response of our own team here.
"The evacuation went off very quickly and very smoothly."
Mr Mieszala said they are now awaiting special reports from consultancy and engineering experts on the scale of the damage caused by the fire.
"At the moment a team of consultants and engineers are trying to establish where we are in relation to the building.
"For now, what we know is that it is not safe to enter. Even for ourselves. We are now allowed inside so we just have to wait for all the steel to cool down.
"We will know more within the next 24 hours.
"We have notified all the tenants that there is no access today and most likely no access tomorrow.
"We have staff allocated at the entrance ways to deal with people who have their cars inside. Obviously, it is a major thing for them and we are really sorry for that. But please understand the whole situation has been caused by a third party and we are trying to do our best to communicate whatever we can.
"We will have an information line for anyone who has cars inside. The number will be (087) 9509800.
"We will also post information on social media.
"We know for a fact we will not be able to drive the cars out - so they will more than likely have to be lifted (out).
"We have an emergency team in place and we are doing everything we can to help people."
Mr Mieszala said no-one has any idea when the shopping centre will be able to open.
Some Douglas locals have expressed fears the centre could be forced to remain closed for weeks rather than days.
"No, there is no one who can answer that question at the moment. There are so many factors to it. One is structural, the other is forensics. The Garda investigation is ongoing - there is a lot of external factors going on," he said.
He confirmed that some outlets in the shopping centre are located directly underneath the area where the fire occurred.
An engineering report is awaited to see if structural damage was caused to the car park.
However, there are hopes that the shopping centre itself escaped serious damage.
"In general, the mall is fine - it could be cleaned out with the bit of water that is there and you could walk the mall fine."
A plume of thick black smoke was visible for 3km away from Douglas at one point. Douglas was very busy at the time with families and shoppers heading home or going to local pubs and restaurants.
Local Councillor Deirdre Forde urged people to pray for the Douglas community.
The Fine Gael representative said: "I'm very upset for businesses in Douglas Shopping Centre. Anyone with respiratory problems please stay away and close windows.
"There's plenty of times for questions, right now businesses are devastated, staff are worried about jobs and firemen are risking their lives to put out the fire.
"The people of Douglas are only recovering from the terrible flood some years ago and now this. Spare a prayer."
Cork TD Michael McGrath noted the plume of black smoke which was visible from some distance away.
"The view from Ballinlough this evening of that fire in Douglas.
Hopefully no one has been injured," he Tweeted as he posted a photo of billowing black smoke.
Forensic experts and engineers are expected to inspect the section where the fire started later today.
The Douglas Link Road and Church Road remain closed following the incident.
The N40 westbound is down to one lane.