Scores of stallholders and vendors of the Stabroek Market Bazaar were yesterday morning barred from entering the area following a fire there on Thursday night which destroyed four stalls and damaged two others and the Guyana Fire Service is working on the theory that the fire may have been caused by illegal electrical connections.
However this is still to be confirmed by the Government Electrical Inspector Office, Fire Chief Lawrence David said yesterday.
When this newspaper visited yesterday the area which was filthy was being cleaned, and the walkway which had been hit by the fire was yellow-taped with investigators working on the scene.
Remnants of confectionery, firecrackers and burnt wood were visible and a burnt electricity meter with several wires hanging from it was pointed out by an investigator, who said it was believed that there had been several illegal connections which had caused the fire.
When the fire, which started around 8 pm, reached stall number 74, the official said, firecrackers began to explode in a context of live electricity wires, which increased the intensity of the blaze.
He explained that the fireworks kept firefighters at bay for about half an hour.
The officer told this newspaper that the vendors would not be allowed to go to check their stalls until all investigations had been completed and the cleaning was over.
Contacted for a comment yesterday on the Fire Department’s response to the fire, Chief Lawrence David told Stabroek News that a team had been dispatched immediately after the department learnt of the fire.
Some persons were reported to have criticized the fire-fighting effort and the time it took to control the blaze. David stated that the ignition caused by the fire crackers contributed to the spread of the fire and that efforts had been concentrated on restricting the amount of damage caused.
Yesterday morning vendors looked on disconsolately, enquiring when they would be allowed to check their stalls, and many of them expressed concern about the extent of their losses. However, none of the vendors claimed ownership of the stall which had the meter or the one which reportedly contained illegal firecrackers.
One vendor who told this newspaper that her stall was in the lane where the fire started said she was on her way home when she learnt of the fire.
“I had already lock up an everything and when I was like halfway home I heard about the fire and I came back down, but I couldn’t see nothing and now I come and I can’t even get to go in to see what really damage,” she said.
Another vendor who sells groceries also feared her losses whether by fire or water could be substantial, and said she was annoyed that she wasn’t able to see her stall. She was already at home when she heard of the fire.
“But because of the traffic on the road I did not worry to come back down, but I am here since early and I anxious because I want to see how much I really lose,” she said.
Another vendor who said she had been selling at the Bazaar for over 35 years learnt that the entire front of her stall had broken down. She said she had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth in stock and was worried about what she would see when she got a chance to view what was left after the fire.
However many of the vendors were tight-lipped and did not admit to knowing that their fellow stallholders were stealing electricity or selling illegal firecrackers.
One admitted that she had learnt that some of the vendors had been stealing electricity, saying the practice was common among the non-stallholders who sold in the walkway and who would take electricity after the stallholders left at night.
But even as some of them claimed ignorance about the selling of firecrackers, some of these items were being sold outside KFC in tubs and buckets and on small makeshift stalls in full public view.
On Wednesday Magistrate Krishendat Persaud denied a businessman his pre-trial freedom when he appeared before him at the Number 51 Magistrate’s Court charged with possession of firecrackers.
Gajendranauth Budhoo of Whim Village, Corentyne had in his possession four packs of mini-crackers, four packs of fireworks, six packs of clear thunder, 15 packs of crazy king, four packs of tornpito crackers, nine packs of coloured flares, 10 packs of scratch bombs and 42 packs of magic shots.
Budhoo was refused bail and is to return to court on November 15 for trial. On Monday Customs officers found 15 boxes of firecrackers in a car in Berbice and the items were seized while the vehicle was detained and the driver placed on bail.
Against that background, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) in a statement reminded the public that the importation, sale and purchase of firecrackers and other explosives were illegal under the Second Schedule, Parts 1 and 2 of the Customs Act amended by Act No.1 of 2005. It noted too that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) was the only agency authorized to import firecrackers and other explosives, and permission must be sought from the Commissioner of Police for the importation of such items.
The release stated further that, “The enforcement arm of the GRA has an ongoing exercise aimed at monitoring the activities at ports and borders countrywide and persons found smuggling goods into the country will be prosecuted under Section 217 and 218 of the Customs Act.”
According to the GRA, the penalty stipulated is payment of treble the value of the goods or a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for one to three years. The GRA added that this penalty is also applicable to persons found selling and/or purchasing firecrackers since they are restricted items.