Three Deaths in Reykjavík Fire Skip to content

Three Deaths in Reykjavík Fire

By Larissa Kyzer

Photo: Screenshot, RÚV.

A housefire in the westside neighbourhood of Vesturbær in Reykjavík on Thursday afternoon led to three deaths. Two others are in critical condition at The National University Hospital of Iceland. One person has been discharged from the hospital. Two were pronounced dead at the scene while the third individual was pronounced dead at the hospital, RÚV reports.

The identification commission of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police was called to the scene. Three individuals were arrested for not following police orders. Two of the arrests were at the scene of the fire. One individual is now in police custody as police are investigating the matter. A decision will be made today on whether he will be put into custody.

Eight of the residents stayed overnight in accommodation provided by the Icelandic Red Cross. The residents were both Icelanders and foreigners, according to the Red Cross. The Red Cross also offered crisis counselling to ten people following the fire. Among those were bystanders as well as relatives of those transported to hospital.

Difficult Circumstances

The fire took place on the corner of Bræðraborgarstígur and Vesturgata. The police investigation formally started once the fire brigade finished their work at around 3.30am. Between 50 to 60 people from the fire brigade took part in the operations yesterday. It’s thought that six to ten people were in the house at the time it caught fire.

Jón Viðar Matthíasson, marshal of the Reykjavík fire brigade, said that the firefighting proved to be difficult as the heat was significant and the house is only partially concrete. Therefore, the house was at risk of collapsing. The brigade ended up removing the roof and a gable, a method normally reserved for industrial housing. The house burned very quickly. “There could be a number of explanations for that,” Jón Viðar said. The police investigation will hopefully shed a light on the matter. “Hopefully they can put together a picture from what is left of the house,” Jón Viðar added.

Jón Viðar told RÚV that the blaze was one of the most difficult that the fire department had ever had to battle. He said that the nearby homes had not been at risk of catching fire, but smoke damage is not unlikely and residents in the area were encourage to close all their windows. The house was so badly damaged in the fire that it was torn down by authorities at the first possible opportunity and a guard was stationed to keep watch at the site overnight.

Eyewitnesses described a terrifying scene. Personal trainer Ingi Svansson was working nearby when he heard screams from the house, saw the flames, and called the fire department. “We heard the screams of the people and tried to bring a ladder around to the front, but it was too short,” he told Fréttablaðið. Then we went around the other side of the house and found some big trashcans and told them that they should jump [into them]. Otherwise, they would have suffocated in there.” Three people jumped from the top floor in order to escape, at least one sustaining injuries in the process.

Illegal Residential Building

The house, situated on Bræðraborgarstígur 1, is on a list of illegal residential housing published by the fire brigade in 2017. The first floor of the house is classified as commercial property, as it was originally furnished as a kindergarten. 73 individuals in total are registered as having legal residence in the house. The investigative journalism programme Kveikur took up the matter of illegal residence in the house in 2017. The registered owner of the house is local contractor HD Verk, whose owners have not yet been available for comment. The building was at one point rented by the temporary work agency Seigla, as well as the temporary work agency Menn í Vinnu before that.

“I do not know whether an investigation will reveal that there have been illegal modifications to the house, or if there are any inadequacies. It will take more time to investigate. But the house has been modified,” Jón Viðar answered when asked about potential changes to the building. The house was originally built in 1906. The building will be fully demolished once the police have finished investigating the scene.

HD Verk has been investigated previously by authorities for a different building on Dalvegur street in Kópavogur. The cities fire brigade along with the police, Administration of Occupational Safety and Health, along with the Directorate of Internal Revenue inspected the house. Rooms on the second floor of the house on Dalvegur were found to be illegally rented and fire protection in the house was deficient. HD Verk applied for rights to operate a guesthouse on Bræðraborgarstígur 1, the house that burned down. They applied for a guesthouse with seven rooms and lodging for 14 people in total. The application was denied. The building was reported on in Stundin newspaper in 2015 when a resident commented on the substandard housing that a large number of people lived in. At the time, a Reykjavík city building inspector commented that the house was to be inspected.

Updated on June 26 at 1.12pm.

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