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Blaze tragedy Father and son who died in Sligo fire were found with their arms around each other

Jury told there was a fire alarm in the building but it was not operating

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Sean Harte (34) and his dad Sonny (63)

Sean Harte (34) and his dad Sonny (63)

Sean Harte (34) and his dad Sonny (63)

A detective sergeant who arrived at the scene of a fatal fire which claimed the lives of a father and son in Sligo town in April 2017 said that until the fire crew found the casualties, gardaí had thought all the occupants had got out safely.

Sergeant Gerard Mullaney said gardaí had thought everyone was safely out “so it was a shock to us when the first body arrived out”.

The jury at Sligo Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that six people, including a woman in an adjoining building, escaped the fire which started in a first-floor apartment at 25 Market Street in the early hours of Saturday, April 22, 2017.

The two men who died, Christopher (Sunny) (63)and Sean Harte (34), had been in a second-floor apartment directly above the one where the fire started, coroner Eamon MacGowan was told.

The men appeared to have their arms around each other when they were found lying in the doorway with the father on top of the son, the inquest heard.

Sean Harte had been renting the apartment since July 2016, and was due to move out that weekend.

During yesterday’s sitting of the inquest, the jury was shown CCTV footage compiled by Garda Mark Irwin showing a pair of feet descending on to a flat roof of the building and entering a window of apartment B, where the fire started. A minute later at 4.45am the feet reappeared and went back up out of camera shot.

The coroner pointed out that seven minutes later the fire can be seen flickering on the CCTV and he asked “did that person start the fire?”. Garda Irwin said he could not comment on that.

Two people, a man and a woman who were trapped on the roof of an adjoining building when gardaí arrived were rescued by officers who used a ladder to bring them to safety. A woman was rescued from an apartment next door .

Sgt Mullaney described how he and two colleagues were on duty in the patrol car on Pearse Road, Sligo, when they saw smoke coming from the town centre, and they drove in the direction of High Street in an effort to locate the source of the smoke.

He said gardaí located a ladder in the laneway between 24 and 25 Market Street and they used it to bring the two people on the roof down to safety. The witness said the two floors of the building were engulfed by flames.

When the fire crews entered the building they located the two causalities and carried them outside. Sergeant Mullaney described how gardaí and firefighters performed CPR on the the father and son until the paramedics took over.

Four units of Sligo fire brigade and three ambulance units were at the scene.

Mr Ciaran Tansey, solicitor for the family, put it to the detective that this was a stand-out, unparalleled tragedy and that gardaí only became aware of the fire because they observed smoke at night time.

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Mr Tansey put it to a number of witnesses that there was no alarm, no vents to allow smoke escape and no map of the building to assist rescue personnel.

Sgt Mullaney told the coroner that when he and his colleagues were rescuing the two people trapped on the roof they could hear the fire crackling, glass breaking and debris falling.

The jury was told that there was a fire alarm in the building but it was not operating.

When firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the building their thermal imaging camera recorded temperatures of over 1,200C.

Sgt Mullaney said that gardaí shouted inside the building to try and determine if there were people inside but could not make it up the stairs because of the intensity of the fire. Visibility was zero, fire officers told the jury.

Garda Eoin Beirne recalled seeing a massive plume of smoke when they arrived in Market Street.

Someone waved down the patrol car down and told them two people were trapped on the roof.

Fire officer Brendan Henry, who was in charge of the scene, said minutes after fire officers wearing breathing apparatus entered the building, they radioed down saying they had located two casualties.

Mr Henry told the jury that even if fire crews are told that everyone is out, they search through a fire scene as if people are inside.

The inquest heard that the door had been open in apartment B which had been vacated by a previous tenant on April 10.

Mary Henry, an auctioneer, said her company was the letting agent for the building but they were not block managers so were not responsible for the common areas such as halls.

She said her company had put in fire extinguishers, fire blankets and smoke detectors into the individual apartments which were rented out. The detectors were checked every six to eight weeks.

She said she did not believe there were fire extinguishers in the hall as “they kept getting let off and stolen”.

At the time of the fire the property was in the hands of a receiver, she said.

The inquest continues today.

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