Poland in mourning after Kamien Pomorsk hostel fire

Article published on April 17, 2009
Article published on April 17, 2009

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On 12 April, a terrible tragedy at a hostel fire in a northwestern Polish town killed 21 people,  including 13 children, whilst 23 still remain missing

That day there were 77 people checked into the hostel in Kamien Pomorski, a town in northwestern Poland, when a fire broke out a few minutes after midnight. People were shouting, 'Help, save us!' and out of sheer desperation, some jumped out of windows or tried to jump into the trees, whilst others threw their children from the building to the crowds. When the firefighters arrived, it was thought that this disaster would soon be over, however they were shocked to see that they could not enter the building as they were faced with flames at the entrance and the building was beginning to collapse. The lifeguards put up three-meter ladders but a witness claims that they were on the wrong side of the building.

This particular Sunday night shocked the whole of the country. There are still a number of unexplained facts. Firstly, there were 77 people checked in, but the actual number of guests is unknown as it was the easter weekend. 54 people were saved, 23 are thought to be missing, 21 bodies were found, and in this 13 of the bodies were those of children. The fate of two people is still unknown. At this time the bodies are still being identified, this has had to be done thorough DNA.

The 'burning torch' is the expression mostly used in the Polish media to describe the fire

The other mystery, which is the most terrifying, is the reason for the fire. The 'burning torch' is the expression mostly used in the Polish media to describe the fire. The fire service could not extinguish the fire easily, as it was too wild and broke out in the heart of the building – the corridor. It could have started due to damage in the electrical installation but it is also reported that it could have been deliberate. There were stories of a woman who was evicted from the hostel and who had threatened to burn down the hostel and the city hall. Another concern was with the technical condition of the building and the fact that the local council did not maintain the building correctly.

According to the preliminary report done by the commission on 16 April, the hostel was not suitable to live in. It found that the corridor contained many flammable materials and the exit routes were blocked. Grzegorz Schetyna, the internal affairs minister, stated that the fire service did the best they possibly could as they started saving lives of people first.

Arriving at the site where the tragedy occurred, president Lech Kaczyński and current prime minister Donald Tusk offered help to the victims and promised to find the underlying cause of the disaster. The president also announced a three day mourning period from 14 - 17 April. The prime minister did not appreciate this decision but he decided not to defy the head of the state. Tusk has also been criticised for not informing the president about the tragedy. When asked for a comment about his behaviour, Tusk ignored the question and instead opted for a speech about the well-being of the victims.

The whole country has been united by the tragedy - some cities have sent aid. Nearby Szczecin has offered help with housing, the ministry of finance has given 1milon zlotys (about £200, 000) to the victims and Polish citizens are sending donations. A special commission, set up especially, will investigate details of the fire; the report will be available in a month.