Arson suspected in campus gas explosion

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Originally published in Volume IV, Issue 8 on 4th February 1998 by Sarah Egan.

 

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Arson is suspected following an explosion in a storage shed near the water tower on the Belfield campus. Witnesses living in nearby Clonskeagh, described seeing flames up to 100 ft high, when  a cylinder of gas, which was stored inside the shed, exploded in the heat of the fire. The incident occurred shortly before 10 o’clock on Saturday January 24th.

Paul Diskin, a third year Arts student, who lives near the Clonskeagh gate, described hearing a sound, “…like loads of firecrackers going off.” When he went outside his house he saw smoke and sparks: “Then, as I was looking at it, there was a massive explosion. There were thirty foot trees between my line of vision and the blast, but still the tower of flames was visible above the trees. The flames were about 100 foot high,”

The explosion was loud enough to be heard some miles away, in Windy Arbour. Two units of the fire brigade – from Donnybrook and Nutgrove – attended the scene, watched by local residents, and brought the blaze under control. No one was injured in the incident.

It is not known exactly how the fire began but it is thought that it was started deliberately. College security immediately notified officials from the college’s Public Affairs Office. One of these officials, Ruth Gallagher, commented, “gas doesn’t explode by itself, something happened to it.” Locals have talked of rags being scattered in the area with the intention of setting fire to the gas cylinder.

Donnybrook Gardai were called to the scene and are currently investigating the matter. A spokesperson from the Garda Press Office told the University Observer, “we did a forensic examination and are waiting for the report to come back.” According to the Public Affairs Office, the Gardai have not reported back to the college authorities since the incident.

The building in which the gas was stored – built of concrete blocks – was completely demolished by the blast and the contents of the shed – oil and gas tanks and pumping equipment – were also totally destroyed. The outside wall of the boiler house, which stands nearby the shed, is charred and chips appear to have been blasted out of concrete blocks in the wall. A nearby lamp post was burned and partially melted in the intensity of the blast.

However, it is thought the explosion had the potential to be much more devastating, as a major gas pipeline runs about 30 feet from where the demolished building used to stand. It is not known whether those involved in the arson attack were aware of these details.

A Bord Gais employee, who was inspecting the site following the explosion emphasised the danger the blast could potentially have caused: “if the main gas stores had blown as well, there’d be nothing here only a massive crater.” It is thought such a blast could have destabilised the water tower – Belfield’s most easily recognised landmark.

There will obviously be questions about campus security, if arson is proven, as Unicare patrols the college grounds 24hrs a day.

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