An early morning fire swept through the Ministry of Health Annex at Liliendaal, East Coast Deme-rara yesterday, reducing the decades-old wooden structure to rubble and forcing dozens of health workers to be relocated.
The building – formerly the site of the famous Carib Hotel – housed four health departments. It went up in flames around 3:15 am, scaring residents living nearby as strong winds pushed the roaring fire southward. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.
Scores of residents and people from neighbouring villages scurried to the scene in sleeping clothes to watch the blaze. However, they were cautioned by firefighters and police to keep away.
Ministry officials stood at a distance, watching as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze. The building housed the Veterinary Public Health Department, the Food Policy Depart-ment, the Environmental Health Department and the Health Science Education Department of the ministry. These had originally come under the entity known as the Guyana Agency for Health Sciences Education, Environment and Food Policy which had been headed for many years by the late Dr Walter Chin.
When Stabroek News arrived at the scene the entire building was engulfed in thick flames and smoke while several utility poles were sparking. Chief Fire Officer of the Guyana Fire Service Marlon Gentle told this newspaper that they were still trying to determine the origin of the fire and that four fire tenders responded to the alert, including the Central Fire Station.
He said that the fire service received a call from a motorist who said he was passing on the Public Road when he saw the top storey of the building ablaze. Gentle said an alarm was immediately sent out and the Campbellville Fire Station responded and was the first to reach the scene.
He stated that the Campbellville firefighters reported that there were heavy fire conditions in the building and a second alarm was raised and the Alberttown, Ogle and the Central fire stations dispatched fire tenders. There were four fire tenders and thirty-two on-duty firefighters on the scene, while fifteen off-duty firefighters living in the area also responded.
But their efforts to control the flames were hindered by very strong winds, he said. “The wind is not friendly to us,” he said as firefighters fought to control the flames. “In my 29 years of experience of firefighting this the first fire I have ever fought with this amount of wind under these challenging conditions,” he said.
Dennis Haynes, a resident who lives opposite the building, said he was awakened by the resounding sound of a vehicle’s horn blowing. “I heard a vehicle blowing and when I peep outside I see the top of the building on fire and people were shouting,” he said, adding that the fire service turned up on the scene in less than ten minutes.
Karen, only name given, said an explosion woke her up and when she looked outside, the building was smoking and fire sirens were blaring and headed in her
direction. She said she became scared by the size of the flames and the heat because the wind was pushing the flames in the direction of her house.
Another resident said that he was also awakened by a loud noise but he thought it was gunshots. “It’s till when I hear the sirens that I know it was fire but I didn’t know it was the Medex building. When I looked outside I see the building blazing and it was burning quick cause the building is old,” the man said.
Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health Trevor Thomas told Stabroek News the ministry was discussing alternative accommodation for health workers. “But fortunately their works would not be impeded because most of them are field workers.”
“It is a great loss,” he said, adding that all of the equipment and valuable records in the building were destroyed.
The building was constructed decades ago right next to the seawall and was originally the location of the Carib Hotel run by the Yassins. It was a popular entertainment spot in the 1960s and 70s. Yesterday morning around 7:00 am firefighters were still dousing the embers.