Two students die in apartment fire in Leuven

Summary

Irish women were on an Erasmus exchange and had only recently begun studying in the city

Families arrive in city

Two students died on Friday night when the apartment they were renting in Leuven caught fire. The two women were of Polish and Latvian origin but had Irish nationality, and were on an Erasmus exchange from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland, where they were in the second year of a Bachelor of business in the department of hotel and catering management. They were named as Sara Gibadlo, 19, and Dace Zarina, 22, and had only recently begun the 30-week posting to Leuven.

The fire broke out at around 6.00, when they are thought to have been asleep. The fire service was at the scene within seven minutes – the brigade’s headquarters is barely two kilometres from the house in Bankstraat – but it was already too late for the two occupants of the attic flat. According to a spokesperson for the Leuven brigade, the women appear to have tried to take refuge from the fire inside a wardrobe.

“They were both talented young students. It is terrible to lose such intelligent and creative young girls,” a spokesperson for the school told the Irish Independent. Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters issued a statement of deep sympathy with the relatives and fellow students of the two women for what he said was “a future brought much too soon to an end”.

Meanwhile the building’s owner, the Leuven Institute for Ireland in Europe, which rents out rooms in the house to students, said the building was in line with all fire regulations. The institute was responding to a statement by Leuven mayor Louis Tobback that the building was not registered with the city as student accommodation.

According to reports, firemen on the scene were not aware the house was split into student accommodation, or that the attic floor was occupied. The chiefs of the fire service for the three university cities of Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp called on the Flemish government to introduce uniform rules on fire safety in student accommodation.

The institute, until 1983 known as the Irish College, dates back to 1607, when it was one of more than 30 colleges set up to teach Catholicism to Irish Catholics abroad after the country came under the rule of the Protestant English. In 1983 it was turned over by the Franciscan order to be used as a secular college. It is not part of the University of Leuven, although the university authorities said they were providing every possible support to the institute. 

Eight other occupants of the flats, who managed to escape to safety, were given alternative accommodation. The parents of the two women, accompanied by brothers and sisters, were received in Leuven by representatives of the university and the Irish embassy, and later learned that the bodies of the two women have been cleared for repatriation.

The city architect inspected the damage to the building and is expected shortly to decide whether it needs to be demolished. The origin of the fire is being investigated by experts for the Leuven prosecutor’s office.

Photo: Tributes are left for the two women who died in Leuven on Friday night. Photo by Belga

Two Erasmus exchange students from Ireland die in apartment fire in Leuven.

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