A house in West Reykjavík caught fire yesterday afternoon, RÚV reports, resulting in three deaths. Three people were also arrested at the scene for “disobeying police orders”. The house, located on Bræðraborgarstígur 1, has long been the subject of media attention for allegedly poor living conditions, and the company which owns property has appeared in the news before.
The fire was reported at 15:15 yesterday, and firefighters and police at the scene described difficult conditions. There was considerable smoke produced by the blaze, and immediate neighbours were told to close their windows. Three died in the blaze, and two are still in intensive care. Of the three arrests made at the scene, two of them were arrested for trying to flee the scene. One person is still in custody, and may face questioning.
Vísir reports that the labour union Efling is particularly concerned about the workers in the house. While a union representative alleges that some of the workers in the building were connected to a labour rental company, a representative of the company in question contended to MBL that they have no connection to the house whatsoever. That said, Fréttablaðið reports that 73 people are registered as living in this single house, according to the National Registry, all but one of them foreign origin.
It is unknown how many people actually live in the structure, and firefighters told RÚV that there were anywhere from six to 10 people in the house at the time of the fire.
The house itself has appeared in the media on a few occasions as housing workers living in unfit conditions. In 2015, Stundin interviewed a former resident of the house, who described the house as dilapidated, infected with mold, and housing mostly foreign rental workers who paid as much as 90,000 ISK per month in rent for a small room, with no fire exit apart from the main entrance. In 2018, journalist Eiríkur Jónsson also reported on the unsanitary living conditions visible even from outside the house.
The property is registered as belonging to a company called HD verk ehf, Vísir reports. They also report that this property is not registered as a residential property nor as a guesthouse, making it illegal to house people there. This company appeared in Stundin in the summer of 2015 as they also owned AR Guesthouse, which was shut down by police for operating without a license. People connected HD Verk ehf. have still be unreachable for comment at the time of this writing.
Police are currently investigating the situation.
UPDATE, 12:37: The Icelandic Confederation of Labour has expressed condolences for those caught in the fire and called for a thorough investigation. Arson may be a likely cause for the blaze.
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