Investigation: Levi fire that killed three children caused by cable fault

OTKES will be looking into electrical safety at Finland's many cabin rental properties to try and ensure a similar fire is not possible in the future.

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File picture showing fire damage to Levi rental cabin, April 2019 / Credit: OTKES

A fire at a holiday home in Levi which killed three girls in April was caused by a faulty underfloor heating cable.

That’s the conclusions of the Accident Investigation Board OTKES which carried out the investigation into the incident in conjunction with the police. The report was published on Friday morning.

“The electric floor heating under the floorboards started the fire. Mistakes had been made in the installation of the heating cable” says investigator-in-charge Kai Valonen.

“The cable had been bent too tightly and attached in a manner that damaged the insulation of the cable. The damage caused a malfunction in the cable, and it ignited the wood in its vicinity” Valonen explains.

Although the fire itself burned only a one square metre area, the living room in the rental cabin had a high open ceiling which allowed the smoke to rise directly upstairs. All the children who died in the fire had been sleeping in one room upstairs.

Investigators say one other child who was sleeping downstairs woke up at the sound of the fire alarm and called emergency services. Rescue crews arrived on the scene just 13 minutes later.

The report finds that there was no possibility of saving the girls sleeping upstairs, and no indications that they tried to escape the fire, and concludes that gases generated during the initial phase of the fire could have made them unconscious.

In a previous investigation in 2016, OTKES found that children are much less likely to wake up at the sound of a fire alarm than adults.

Safety issues in rental properties 

There are thousands of holiday properties in Finland, where it’s very common for people to rent cottages for the weekend or short holidays.

But now the configuration of these rental places could be under scrutiny following the Levi fire deaths.

“In Finland there are a lot of rental cabins where the number of beds has been maximised with various upstairs spaces and lofts. Unfortunately in case of a fire they may easily become death-traps” warns Pekka Nurmi, Executive Director of OTKES.

“The fire and escape safety of rental cabins must be improved, you cannot compromise safety” says Nurmi.

A separate investigation looking into how electrical installations are verified, and how maintenance of electrical equipment is carried out, should be completed in late autumn.

It is expected to have a number of safety recommendations for rental cabin properties.