From Iceland — Union Head Expresses Condolences, Calls For Investigation Of House Fire; Arson Possible Cause

Union Head Expresses Condolences, Calls For Investigation Of House Fire; Arson Possible Cause

Published June 26, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) has issued a statement regarding yesterday’s house fire in Reykjavík that resulted in three deaths and two in intensive care, expressing heartfelt condolences for those who perished in the fire, and have called for a thorough investigation of the matter. A source close to Stundin says that arson is a likely culprit in this case.

ASÍ points out, in a statement they sent to the press, that 73 people are registered as living at the property, the vast majority of them foreign workers. They believe it is likely that these workers were given this housing by their employer or employers.

“The labour movement has, for a long time, called for effective measures from the government to secure the working conditions of foreigners in Iceland, fight against human trafficking, and prevent underpayment,” the statement reads in part. “The labour movement has especially demanded that the living conditions of foreign workers provided by their employers are secure, and that employers are held accountable if the housing is unfit.”

“Our thoughts are first and foremost with the people who were in the house when the fire broke out, and its conditions,” ASÍ president Drífa Snædal (above) says. “We demand that the matter be investigated thoroughly. It is still unclear who provided these people with this housing, and why so many people are registered as living there. We do know that there have been repeated calls that this property, and others like it, be investigated due to the conditions therein. The fire at Bræðraborgarstígur calls for a thorough and detailed investigation, and it is the demand of ASÍ that no stone be left unturned. This must never happen again.”

As reported, 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.

Stundin now reports that a source close to them says that by most indications, arson was a likely suspect in this case, and it is believed that the fire started on the second floor. Jón Viðar Matthíasson, chief of the capital area firefighters, told radio station Rás 2 this morning that it came as a surprise to firefighters just how much fire there was, and how quickly it spread.

Two were reportedly arrested at the scene, and one is still in police custody. A decision on whether or not to question the suspect will be taken later today.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

You can also support us by checking out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!