By Harry Keaney
A Dublin man in his 30s was among four victims of a Dec. 23 fire that started in the Manhattan apartment of the family of actor Macaulay Culkin, star of the movie "Home Alone."
Maitiu Breathnach, a PricewaterhouseCoopers executive, was found dead in a stairwell of the Upper West Side high-rise, nearly two floors above the 25th floor apartment where he lived. He apparently collapsed after trying to escape the dense smoke that filled the stairwell after the fire broke out in the 19th floor apartment where the Culkin family lived. It is believed the blaze began after a couch beside a heater went on fire. The Culkin family escaped without injury.
Breathnach had worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers in his native Dublin before moving to New York to become a partner with the company. He specialized in gauging and managing market risk for companies and was also an expert in the complex calculation of the valuation of derivatives.
According to an Irish newspaper report, Breathnach’s Kildare-born wife was carrying out some last-minute Christmas shopping at the time of the fire. They were married about a year and a half ago, had almost finished building a house in Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, and were planning to return home to Ireland.
It was the second New York fire in a week that claimed a victim with close Irish connections. Previously, James Bohan, 25, whose parents came from Leitrim and Limerick, was among three firefighters killed when a fireball engulfed them as they were searching for an elderly woman thought to be trapped in her 10th floor Brooklyn apartment.
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Both fires were similar in that the smoke or flame traveled along a hallway — an oxygen route — in a multi-story building.
The victims of the Manhattan fire, three women and Breathnach, were believed to be trapped in what Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen described as "a blast of heat and smoke that went up the stairway like a chimney."
The other victims were Wanda Chappell, 39, a senior vice president at Random House; Lillian Lowder, 28, who worked in the building, and Constance Hurley, 77, who lived on the 28th floor.
All died of smoke inhalation.
The four-alarm fire was reported shortly before 10 a.m. on Dec. 23 at South Park Towers, a 51-story building at 124 West 60th St. with 542 apartments on the upper floors, and medical and commercial offices on the lower 10 floors. There was a sprinkler system in the lower 10 floors. It appears city regulations do not require sprinklers for the upper residential floors.
Breathnach’s remains were flown home to Dublin at the weekend and waked at his parents home. They were then removed to Holy Cross Church, in Dundrum, where he was once an altar boy.