Regulation Changes Needed to Ensure Safe Housing

Slökkvilið höfuðborgarsvæðisins bs / Facebook. Fire in Hafnarfjörður, August 20, 2023

Iceland’s housing problem gets worse with each passing year, President of The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) Finnbjörn A. Hermannsson stated in a radio interview yesterday morning. One died and two others were hospitalised in a fire earlier this week that broke out in an industrial building that was being used for housing. Thousands are likely living in buildings that are not classified as residential in Iceland and Finnbjörn says such residences should be legalised to ease safety monitoring.

Housing a key issue in upcoming wage negotiations

Finnbjörn says there simply isn’t enough housing to meet demand in Iceland. “We can’t even keep up with normal [population] growth, let alone when we get such a huge wave of working people that the society needs,” he stated. “Everyone needs somewhere to live and so they go to these industrial buildings that are not intended for residence.”

Following a fatal house fire in June 2020, Icelandic authorities launched an investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that between 5,000 and 7,000 people were living in properties classified as commercial or industrial buildings in Iceland in 2021. Finnbjörn says that housing will be at the forefront in the coming collective agreement negotiations. He expressed his faith that the situation would improve.

New legislation on the way

Living in buildings that are not classified as residential buildings is currently illegal in Iceland. It has proven difficult for fire departments to monitor such buildings due to privacy laws. However, the Minister of Infrastructure plans to introduce a bill next month that would allow for temporary residence permits in buildings that are not classified as residential, provided they fulfil safety requirements. The legislation would also authorise fire departments to monitor such buildings more closely.

One Dead Following Reykjavík Fire

fatal accident Iceland

Three people were transported to hospital for emergency care after a fire broke out in an industrial building in Reykjavík yesterday afternoon. One later died in intensive care, according to a notice from Capital Area Police. The condition of the other two is not considered life-threatening. People were living in the building although it is not zoned for residential use.

Fire safety evaluated as adequate

A spokesperson for one of the building’s owners told RÚV yesterday that authorities had recently decided to reclassify the part of the building that people had been living in from residential housing to commercial housing, and that the owners wanted to have that decision overturned. The spokesperson also stated that the fire department had evaluated fire safety measures on the premises on October 13 as being adequate, with the exception of lacking one fire escape. The owners had been given a deadline to install an additional fire escape and had been addressing the issue.

The cause of the fire is unknown but an investigation is underway.

Many people living in non-residential buildings in capital area

This is the second case of a fire breaking out in an industrial building being used as housing in the capital area within two months. On August 20, a fire broke out in Hafnarfjörður in an industrial building where at least 17 people had been living. Luckily, no injuries or fatalities were reported. Six people who had been sleeping when the fire broke out were rescued from the flames.

“Residing in commercial [or industrial] buildings is still not permitted, though there is a lot of it in the capital area,” Birgir Finsson, Acting Fire Chief of Greater Reykjavík, told reporters at the time.

Fatal house fire prompts regulation changes

Following a fatal house fire in June 2020, Icelandic authorities launched an investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that between 5,000 and 7,000 people were living in properties classified as commercial or industrial buildings in Iceland in 2021. In July 2023, the Minister of Infrastructure drafted an amendment to fire safety regulations in an effort to ensure more people have their actual residence registered correctly and make it easier for authorities to enter housing where fire prevention measures may be inadequate.

Significant Damage After Residential Fire

Significant damage occurred after a fire broke out in a multi-family house in Akureyri, RÚV reports.

A fire began in a multi-family house in Akureyri early this morning, and although the fire brigade quickly managed to control the blaze, significant damage was done to the building.

RÚV reports that the fire has since been successfully extinguished.

Gunnar Rúnar Ólafsson, the fire chief in Akureyri, stated that a significant amount of smoke was coming from the house when the fire brigade arrived. No residents were inside the apartment that caught fire, and they managed to extinguish the fire quickly, in about half an hour.

The building in question is home to four apartments.

Gunnar stated that there is no further information about the source of the fire.

 

Kitten Found Safe Amid Fire Ruins in Hafnarfjörður

Slökkvilið höfuðborgarsvæðisins bs / Facebook. Fire in Hafnarfjörður, August 20, 2023

A young kitten named Koddi was discovered on Wednesday atop the fire-damaged industrial building in Hafnarfjörður where a blaze erupted on Sunday, RÚV reports. The kitten was among four pets reported missing in the wake of the fire.

Building Lacked Adequate Fire Safety Measures

Questions have been raised about the building’s fire safety, as the industrial structure was inadequately equipped to protect its occupants. Authorities are still determining the number of people who may have been living in the facility, which was not zoned for residential use. The building is now considered a total loss.

Quick Response from Local Witnesses

As noted by RÚV, Guðrún Gerður Guðbjörnsdóttir, a local resident who witnessed the blaze, immediately contacted emergency services. Upon realising her daughter lived in the affected building, Gerður rushed into the building to awaken her daughter and her partner. The young couple shared their home with one dog and three cats.

Ongoing Search Efforts Yield Results

Rescue teams successfully located and rescued the couple’s dog and one of the cats soon after the fire was extinguished. Efforts continued to find the remaining missing pets, which led to the discovery of Koddi.

Sandra Ósk Jóhannsdóttir, a volunteer with animal welfare organisation Dýrfinna, stated in an interview with RÚV: “We saw the reflection of Koddi’s eyes from the road above the fire site. Despite responding to calls and treats, the young kitten refused to budge from the rooftop.”

Koddi’s owner was eventually brought to the scene. “Koddi became noticeably more vocal upon hearing a familiar voice; it was so relieved” Sandra observed. Evidently comforted, the kitten made his way down and jumped into its owner’s arms.

Aftermath and Ongoing Search for Missing Pets

While Koddi was discovered near his former home, the apartment is among the structure’s total losses. Sandra observed that it had been heart-rending, watching Koddi alone among the ruins. She added that Koddi had been visibly relieved, frequently purring and napping since being reunited with his owner.

Public Alert for Three More Missing Cats

The animal welfare organisation Dýrfinna continues to search for three additional cats believed to have survived the fire. The organisation is urging the public to report any sightings of the missing pets (see below FB post).

Fire in Hafnarfjörður Industrial Building Used for Housing

Slökkvilið höfuðborgarsvæðisins bs / Facebook. Fire in Hafnarfjörður, August 20, 2023

Seventeen people were registered as residents of an industrial building in Hafnarfjörður in the Reykjavík capital area that was heavily damaged when a fire broke out yesterday. The building was not approved for housing. A couple and a family of four were sleeping inside the building when the fire broke out but were woken up by good samaritans who saw the rising smoke and ran over to help. No injuries or fatalities have been reported.

The fire broke out at Hvaleyrarbraut 22 around noon yesterday, and firefighters did not manage to quell the flames entirely until around 4:00 AM this morning. Duty Officer Þorsteinn Gunnarsson of the Greater Reykjavík Fire and Rescue Service said the building was heavily damaged and a part of it had been torn down in order to put out the fire.

Saved a family of four from the flames

Guðrún Gerður Guðbjörnsdóttir called emergency number 112 immediately when she spotted the fire. When she realised it was in the building where her daughter lived, she made her way in. “I ran up the stairs, jumped onto the roof and ran to the window where my daughter lives,” Guðrún told RÚV reporters. She managed to open the window and wake up her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. There was already a lot of smoke in the apartment when she reached them.

Another civilian working near the building told reporters that he had run over when the fire broke out and woken up a family of four that was fast asleep inside the building. The family managed to escape to safety. The building was also used as storage and firefighters did their best to save valuables that were stored on the lower floor of the building, though accessing the storage rooms proved difficult.

Likely more than 17 living in the building

Birgir Finsson, Acting Fire Chief of Greater Reykjavík, says 17 people were registered as living in the building, which was not approved as residential housing. He stated that it was likely, however, that even more had been living there. “Residing in commercial [or industrial] buildings is still not permitted, though there is a lot of it in the capital area,” Birgir stated.

Following a fatal house fire in June 2020, Icelandic authorities launched an investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that between 5,000 and 7,000 people were living in properties classified as commercial or industrial buildings in Iceland in 2021. The Minister of Infrastructure drafted an amendment to fire safety regulations last month in efforts to ensure more people have their actual residence registered correctly and make it easier for authorities to enter housing where fire prevention measures may be inadequate.

Large Fire in Reykjanesbær

fire in reykjanesbær

A fire broke out in an industrial building at the corner of Víkurbraut and Hrannargata in Reykjanesbær today.

Vísir states that all Reykjanes Fire Department vehicles have arrived at the scene, and firefighting efforts are underway.

The fire is in a building located at Víkurbraut 4, an industrial building from 1973. The building is not in current use, but was used previously as a storage site for Icelandair.

The extent of damage to the building is uncertain at this time. Jón Guðlaugsson, the chief firefighter at the South Peninsula Fire Department, stated to Vísir that the fire is confined to this building, and no one is inside.

“It is progressing slowly and steadily. We have been able to make significant progress in controlling it,” stated Jón. “The roof is starting to collapse in parts… Most of the supports are giving way.”

No further information is available at this time.

Fatal Fire May Lead to Amendments on Housing Regulations

Bræðaborgarstígur fire

The Minister of Infrastructure has drafted an amendment to fire safety regulations in Iceland. The changes are meant to ensure more people have their actual residence registered correctly and make it easier for authorities to enter housing where fire prevention measures may be inadequate.

In June 2020, a fire at Bræðraborgarstígur 1 in Reykajvík claimed three lives, the deadliest fire in Iceland’s recent history. The house had previously been the subject of media attention for its unsafe living conditions. It was owned by an Icelandic company that rented the rooms mostly to migrant workers. There were reports that 73 people were registered as living in the house (though the actual number was lower).

Read More: House Fire Deaths Spark Calls for Fire Safety Reforms

The tragic fire spurred an official investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that in 2021, between 5,000 and 7,000 people in the country were living in properties that had been classified as commercial or industrial buildings and not residential buildings. Fire safety requirements differ between residential, commercial, and industrial housing and those living in non-residential buildings are often not sufficiently protected from the risk of fire. In many cases, the unregistered and inadequate housing is provided to temporary workers by their employer, also putting workers at risk of homelessness if they lose their job.

Under current Icelandic legislation, it is illegal to register one’s residence on commercial or industrial premises except in exceptional cases. This means there is no official information on exactly how many people live in such housing and where, which can create danger in the event of natural disasters and complicate the work of first responders. Icelandic law also does not put a limit on the number of people that can be registered at each residence, which is why 73 people were allegedly registered at Bræðraborgarstígur 1, despite fewer actually living there.

Proposed changes to increase safety

The proposed amendments would make it possible to limit the number of people who register their primary address in each home. They would also permit people to temporarily register their home address in commercial or industrial buildings as well as loosen the requirements for housing benefits to encourage people to correctly register their home address. It would also ensure that authorities had the legal authority to access housing where fire safety was inadequate. Current law permits firefighters to inspect commercial and industrial housing to ensure fire safety measures are in place, but not private homes.

Tourists Escape from Burning Bus Near Lake Þingvallavatn

Þingvallavatn

A bus carrying 25 tourists caught fire near Lake Þingvallavatn yesterday. A firefighter told RÚV that the bus was almost completely burned by the time the fire brigade arrived.

Engulfed in flames almost immediately

Shortly before noon yesterday, a bus carrying 25 tourists came to a halt near Lake Þingvallavatn in Southwest Iceland. According to eyewitnesses, the bus burst into flames shortly afterwards. All of the passengers managed to exit the bus safely.

Eyjólfur Óli Jónsson, duty officer with the Árnes County Fire Department, told RÚV that the bus was almost completely burned by the time the fire brigade arrived. The fire department’s initial efforts were focused on extinguishing the surrounding vegetation. “It was almost impossible to put out the fire with water without polluting the soil near the highway. So as we waited for a tanker to arrive, we concentrated on the fire that had spread to the nearby vegetation. When the tanker arrived, we used foam to smother the fire on the bus.”

According to Eyjólfur, the passengers, despite being alarmed, displayed remarkable composure in the face of the incident. “When I encountered them earlier, they appeared remarkably composed. It seems they had evacuated before the fire intensified.”

Georg Aspelund Þorkelsson was sitting in a nearby car when the fire erupted. He told RÚV that it was thanks to the bus driver’s quick wits that things didn’t turn out worse.

“The passengers exited the bus and grabbed their luggage; it all happened very quickly. The driver parked in the middle of the road, which I believe was the right decision, to prevent the fire from spreading to the nearby vegetation. The bus was then engulfed in flames in a fairly short time.”

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

House Destroyed in Fire Caused by Electric Scooter

A house in eastern Reykjavík was completed destroyed in a fire caused by an electric scooter that was being charged, RÚV reports. The police investigation into the fire concluded that the scooter was indeed the cause of the fire, which burned down the two-storey, wooden house. No one was injured in the incident.

It took firefighting crews six hours to tame the flames at the scene on Tuesday, and they told Vísir that an explosion had occurred within the house. Crews removed the roof of the structure in order to put out the fire more easily. This is not the first time that a plugged-in scooter has started a fire in Iceland: police and firefighters have previously warned of the dangers of charging electric scooters at home.

Hafnarfjörður Fire: Police Still Searching for Four Youths

The police in Hafnarfjörður are still looking for four youths in connection with the fire in Hafnarfjörður on Monday, RÚV reports. Results of the investigation into the origins of the fire are expected this afternoon.

A warehouse fire in Hafnarfjörður

On Monday evening, police received reports of a warehouse fire in Drafnarslippur, Hafnarfjörður. All available firefighters were subsequently dispatched to the scene. The fire spread from the warehouse building, which was empty, to an attached storage unit and burned its contents, which included tyres.

As previously noted, a few gas cylinders caused minor explosions inside the burning building, although a favourable wind direction blew the smoke out to sea, which limited the spread of the fire and smoke to nearby areas.

Following the event, the police announced that they were looking for four youths who were reportedly seen around the area at approximately 5 PM on the day of the fire. According to the announcement, one of the youths is believed to have long, red hair and another was riding a bicycle.

No tips as of yet

In an interview with Vísir, assistant superintendent Skúli Jónsson stated that the four individuals in question had not come forward and no tips had been received; the police had made no headway in their attempt to reach the young people. When asked if the young people were suspected of having something to do with the origin of the fire, Skúli stated that it was “impossible to say.”

“They were there around 5 PM, and the fire was noticed three and a half hours later. We’d simply like to talk to them,” Skúli told Vísir. He concluded by saying that the technical department of the police, which had been investigating the fire, had yet to reach a conclusion, although a clearer picture of events should emerge later today.