One of the things I like about NUI Maynooth is that it’s the kind of place where very little excitement ever happens. You get the odd evacuation because some muppet with a JCB has hit a gas main but nothing ever blows up. Life as a member of staff or a student in NUIM is generally a pleasant, peaceful, and uneventful affair. Today however was a little more dramatic, though you wouldn’t think it by reading the official press release from the university:
A small fire occurred this morning in the student restaurant at the edge of the North campus of NUI Maynooth and has since been brought under control …
My definition of a small fire is dramatically different. Surely when you can see the plume of smoke from your office half a mile away and when a building is levelled it counts as more than a small fire?
I was sitting in my office this morning after coffee break when one of the guys from another department came running in to say that the canteen was on fire and that you could see the plume of smoke from the window. Indeed you could. And when we went outside, we could see it towering over the trees and buildings even though it was half a mile or so away. Thick black billowing smoke! A few of us went over for a closer look, though we didn’t get, or want to get, close. The emergency services were on their way over and we certainly didn’t want to cause an obstruction. That, and I had no intention of breathing in any of that dirty black smoke! From a few hundred meters away we could see the flames streaming out of the front of the building.
We didn’t hang around long, it was clear that this was very serious and that the authorities had their hands full enough without a horde of rubber-neckers getting in the way. I did come back for a look at the end of my lunch break though. By then the fire was well under control, the crowds were gone and the panic and chaos was well over. The canteen has been destroyed, gutted, gone. Most of the roof has collapsed, and you can see masses of bent and twisted steal down inside the bowls of the hall I ate in twice a day every day for my entire degree. Thankfully the fire brigade were able to stop it spreading to the adjoining sports hall, but I’m pretty sure it’s damaged none-the-less. You can see into the foyer that separates the sports halls from the canteen because part of its roof is missing, and it looks bad in there. The glass section of the remaining roof is blackened and you can see charred rafters poking out of the edge of the remaining roof. At the very least there must be smoke damage in the actual sports halls, and I have to wonder how much water had to be sprayed in to save them, that must have done some damage too.
I met a few of the dinner ladies who had worked in the canteen for years an hour or so after the fire. They were in shock, and visibly shaken. One lady in particular, who I know quite well and who’s a real gem, was still physically shaking as she talked about what had happened. She says it started in the roof and moved very quickly. Thankfully not so quickly as to hamper people’s escape. She said everyone had plenty of time to get out in an orderly fashion. The university have confirmed that there were no injuries. Thank goodness for small mercies!
When I went back over lunch I took a few shots with my iPhone. It was my first time really using the iPhone camera and I can’t say I’m impressed. I’m also a little grumpy with myself for not having realised that I had a camera in my pocket earlier in the day when I first went over. Guess I still have to get used to that little luxury! You can see my full (and short) set of pics of the aftermath in this flickr gallery.
In our modern web2.0 times it’s probably no surprise that videos of the fire have shown up on YouTube. These two really show the progression. The first one shows the fire starting in the roof. There are no flames visible yet and the smoke is quite benign looking. People are joking and laughing and no one seems to be in any sort of panic. By the second video things have turned a lot more serious. Flames are leaping out of the building and the plume of thick black smoke is rising menacingly into the sky. You can also hear the fire crackling away even though the camera person was a good distance away.
Finally, a Maynooth student has also uploaded his photographs of the fire in progress to Flickr, they are, to say the least, dramatic!