Belfast Telegraph

Two young Irish women die in fire in Belgium

By Geraldine Gittens

Two young women from the Republic have died in a fire in Leuven, Belgium.

Belgian police recovered the two bodies from the second floor of a students’ residence following the fire. The residence was occupied by students at the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe.

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology has this afternoon confirmed that the two young women were students there.

They named the women as 22 year old Dace Zarina from Longford and 19 year old Sara Gibadlo from Oranmore, Galway.

"Dace and Sara were both second year students studying a Bachelor of Business degree in Hotel and Catering Management in GMIT’s main Galway campus," the institute said in a statement.

"They had just commenced a 30 week Erasmus work placement in the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe in January. 

"Dace and Sara were both Irish nationals; Dace’s family originally came from Latvia and Sara’s from Poland. They were the only two GMIT students on placement in the Belgian college.

"GMIT students and staff are trying to come to terms with the tragic news this morning. Many of their  classmates are on placement in different European locations and are being informed of the tragic news by the college authorities in the past hour. Some 400 GMIT students go on work placements every academic  year.

"Members of GMIT management are currently with both families, and are liaising with the Belgian Embassy and authorities in Leuven."

Head of the GMIT College of Tourism and Arts Cait Noone, said: “GMIT is devastated. Dace and Sara were very talented young students. They were both bright, creative young girls. It’s a huge loss.”

Dace's secondary school principal Paul Costello said that the town is in shock.

"Dace was a lovely girl, very popular. Very hard working," he said.

"She came to us for fifth and sixth from Lativa, her mother was working here at the time. She went on to a degree course in GMIT’.

"I saw the story on the Independent this morning, never thought it would be one of our girls. So sad."

The fire started at a building in Leuven on the corner of Bank Street and the Kapucijnenvoer.

It broke out at 6am and took hold for three hours but was extinguished by 9.20am today.

Eight students escaped from the building, using the roof or a window - and six of them are understood to be Irish. They were taken to hospital but are not seriously injured. They are being treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns.

Three of the students who were rescued from the fire were students of the Dublin Institute of Technology. The students of hospitality management at Cathal Brugha Street were on placement, and were on the ground floor of the building.

A spokesperson for the DIT said that contact had been made with all three, and they were uninjured in the blaze. They, along with the other students, were brought to hospital for a check-up.

However, the two women from GMIT had been missing since the blaze started.

Jaroen Ameel, Commandant at Leuven Fire Brigade said the two Irish girls were not able to find their way out of the fire, and they were found huddled together in a wardrobe.

“It was a very heavy fire. It took us one hour to control, and afterwards the stability of the building was not very good.”

“We knew it was over for these two people because the fire was very heavy. Every window was broken and the fire was coming out of the windows."

“We had some dogs because they are trained to go into a building like that, and they helped us to find the two bodies. They were hidden in a wardrobe in the corner, to protect themselves from the fire.”

“They couldn’t find a way out. They were sleeping and we think that they hadn’t noticed the fire.”

He added: “It was a very difficult moment [when the students were found]. Two young people who are students who couldn’t see a way out.”

The Commandant confirmed that the fire alarm sounded at the fire department at 6.15am, and fire services arrived around seven minutes later.

“When we arrived, we could see some people who were leaving the building, and we helped with that,” he said.

The Commandant said the building was not checked by the fire brigade for fire safety.

The Irish Ambassador to Belgium and the first secretary were at the Irish college today, and they also visited the hospital where the six other students were undergoing medical checks.

Paul Costello, principal of Mean Scoil Mhuire in Longford, where Dace went to school, as a 'very popular girl'.

‘Dace was a lovely girl, very popular. Very hard working.’

‘She came to us for fifth and sixth from Lativa, her mother was working here at the time. She went on to a degree course in GMIT’.

‘I saw the story on the Independent this morning, never thought it would be one of our girls. So sad.’

It is understood that the students in the residence are from various Institutes of Technology around Ireland, and were on courses in the catering and tourism sector.

Leuven is located around 16 miles east of Brussels.

Part of the roof collapsed in the fire, and firemen fought the blaze for over three hours.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told "Our embassy in Brussels is in contact with local police and the ambassador is on his way to Leuven."

"We are currently working with the Belgian authorities."

Vin Truyers, Commerical Manager at the University, confirmed earlier this morning that the building is not within the grounds of the college.

“It’s a private house in the street. Students that work in the college live there.”

Minister Lucinda Creighton gave a public address at the Irish College for The European Year of the Citizen 2013 last year.

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