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Faulty electrical work to blame for Levi cabin fire that killed three minors

Rescue officials were unable to save three siblings who were asleep upstairs in the two-storey structure.

lomamökki palaa Levillä
The fire took place at a rental cottage in Levi, northern Finland. Image: Lapin poliisi

Defective electrical work as well as an insufficient number of fire alarms and poor placement of the devices were to blame for a log cabin fire that claimed the lives of three underage siblings in Levi in April this year.

On Friday, the Safety Investigation Authority (OTKES) released the findings of an investigation into the fire, along with recommendations to ensure the incident is not repeated.

Police said in a statement that they are still looking into the case and it is not yet clear whether or not they will launch a preliminary investigation. They also did not disclose any possible offences under consideration.

Investigators said that it had already been established that the blaze was caused by incorrectly installed floor heating elements. "The installation method was unusual," lead investigator Kai Vaolnen said in the statement.

For example, there was too much heating cable installed in the gaps under the floor, the cable was embedded in the insulation, and in some places it was attached to the cabin with steel hooks – contrary to official regulations.

"Risks involved in electrical installation"

OTKES director Veli-Pekka Nurmi stressed during a press conference on Friday that electrical work should always be performed by a qualified contractor.

"It seems that we are rather cavalier about electrical work. I find it a bit odd that we do not take the risks involved electrical installation seriously," Nurmi added.

OTKES said that the problem does not lie with existing regulations, but said that Finland needs a system to ensure that electrical work and commissioning checks are done by a qualified electrician.

Meanwhile Valonen revealed that there had been difficulties in the construction of the cabin. For example the construction manager had been let go and the project had taken seven years to complete, from 1998 to 2005.

Use a safety checklist

Safety investigators gave a total of four recommendations to help prevent similar fires in future. Among other things, OTKES called for a check list for rental cabin security systems that would help both landlords and tenants ensure that safety issues are in order.

"Emergency exits and fire prevention are especially challenging in rental cottages. In these cases, the owner is only present for short periods and guests are not necessarily familiar with the place," Nurmi pointed out.

He said that safety issues and international cooperation should also be considered in the platform economy as part of rules for services such as Airbnb rentals.

No chance to save children

Officials said that the three underage children who perished were asleep on the upper floor of the cabin when the fire started. The oldest sibling, a teenager, was sleeping downstairs and heard the fire alarm.

He managed to escape the blaze. However the children sleeping upstairs perished of smoke inhalation. Although the first firefighting units arrived on the scene in 13 minutes, it was not possible to save the younger siblings.

"There were fire alarms downstairs and it was also possible to hear them during the emergency call. It is still not clear if there were alarms upstairs. According to the owner there were, but none were visible in the photos that we received of the cottage roof," Valonen said.

He noted that research has shown that children are not as likely as adults to wake up to the sound of a fire alarm.

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