Maurice lucky to escape Belgian fire with his life
A GOREY 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) 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.'
'I got ready to jump out the window as I was very disorientated and struggling to breathe,' he continued. 'But our next door neighbour was moving a ladder into place for me, so I managed to get down this.'
'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.'
He said he was heartbroken at the loss of Dace and Sara. He added that their flatmate woke them up and told them to follow her as she escaped through the skylight in her room, but for some unknown tragic reason, they didn't make it out. 'I was unable to reach them as the stairs leading to them was on fire,' he stated.
Maurice is a third year student at the Waterford Institute of Technology, studying for a Bachelor of Business (Hons), and is in Belgium on a work placement as a Programme Co-ordination Assistant with the Leuven Institute for Ireland through the Erasmus Scheme. He plans to stay on and complete his placement.
'I was to start on January 6 and finish on July 6,' he said. 'I was so looking forward to going over there for six months as it gave me a chance to see a bit of Europe and it was going to provide me with life changing experiences while I was working over there. For four weeks, I was having the time of my life.'
He thanked Joan in the Business Placement office; Sonya in the International office; and all the staff in the Business school in Waterford Institute of Technology for their generosity and support over the last week.
He also thanked his friends and family in Wexford for their messages of concern and support.
He was treated for smoke inhalation in hospital, and released later that day. His mother Martina said they are very grateful to everyone who was so supportive to Maurice and the family over the past week.
'As a parent with children away from home, it's always on your mind that they are safe,' she said.
'It was frightening to receive an early morning call that Friday.'
'Then a few hours later, it was confirmed that Dace and Sara's remains were found,' she continued. 'That was very upsetting for everyone. We feel so lucky that Maurice survived this terrible tragedy but we feel so sad for Dace and Sara's families and friends. We flew out to Belgium to be with Maurice and we were just so happy to see him,' she said.