-water a big problem
For the second time in ten days, a fire swept through a section of Regent Street destroying three buildings which housed four businesses, leaving dozens jobless and consuming millions in stock.
The fire started at approximately 3:30 am yesterday when Household Plus erupted in flames before spreading west to the neighbouring buildings which housed Chino Variety Store, Fullworths General Store and Wireless Connections. Another small store named Super Jet was also affected by the fire this newspaper was told. The stretch of buildings is located on the southern side of Regent Street between Cummings Street and Orange Walk.
The origin of yesterday’s fire is unclear but a senior fire officer told this newspaper that the blaze is seen “as a bit suspicious” and that “nothing will be ruled out.” There was no report of a power outage at the time of the fire.
Two Fridays ago, a fire which started at Household Electronics, also on Regent Street, completely destroyed three buildings and badly damaged the top flat of another. Initial reports suggest that that fire was electrical in origin. Household Electronics is owned by Shaheed Hamid, whose brother owns Household Plus.
Hamid and other family members were at the scene yesterday morning. The owner of the store, however, was not there at the time. Hamid, when approached, said he did not know much about the fire or about the value of the property lost. When the issue of the fire being “suspicious” was raised, he responded that people could believe and say what they want to and he could not stop them from doing this. He said the insurance company would have to do their investigations. Another relative added that he did not believe the fire was an act of arson.
Fire-fighters battled for hours to control the mighty inferno even as a sizeable crowd gathered to watch. Although fire-fighters reportedly arrived promptly, their initial efforts were hampered by the lack of water. The flames, which were fanned by the early morning winds, raged for over three hours before the fire-fighters were able to bring the blaze under control. The efforts by the fire-fighters were not aided by the multiple leaks in the hoses which led to a significant wastage of water.
In the battle to control the blaze, two fire-fighters were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. One was hit in the eyes by flying debris and the other sustained an electric shock. The latter was reportedly shocked when some of the firemen were busy trying to open the generator room at the back of the lower flat of the Wireless Connections Store.
Fire Chief Marlon Gentle, who was on the scene, said he was pleased with the efforts of the service. He said that the Fire Service was notified about the inferno at about 3:45 am and responded promptly and did the best they could in the circumstances. He said when firefighters arrived on the scene, the Household Plus building was fully engulfed. Immediately efforts were concentrated on containing the fire, the Fire Chief said.
Gentle said that the 4000 gallons of water with which the tenders arrived was not sufficient and subsequently water was sourced from the canals on South Road and North Road. However, about 45 minutes to an hour later, the North Road canal became so silted up; it could not be used, Gentle said.
There were other issues that hampered fire-fighting efforts and these included traffic and the frenzied effort by owners to evacuate their goods- thereby cluttering the area with vehicles, the Fire Chief explained. He pointed out that apart from being the sales outlets, the buildings also served as storage bonds and the “fuel load… was tremendous”. The high security features in the buildings posed challenges in terms of firefighters breaking into the buildings to fight the flames. The early morning winds also fanned the flames the Fire Chief said and added that there were a number of explosions within the buildings.
Suspicions have been raised about the possible causes of recent fires and Gentle said the possible cause of this one is “open” and some issues have to be made clear before there is a pronouncement. He said that investigations are ongoing into the other fire.
Speaking on the limited space between many buildings, the Fire Chief said that buildings close together are always an issue. He stated that they would like to see anything that would prevent fire spreading.
In response to concerns raised about the lack of water when the Fire Service arrives at a fire scene, Gentle pointed out that the tenders are for immediate deployment with the idea that water would be available at the spot. He noted that the Fire Service deployed three categories of tenders; one that carries 2000 gallons of water which would last for about five minutes; another that fetches 1000 gallons; and the 400 gallons tender. The water would last depending on how fast the water is pumped.
He said that while hydrants are a great help in fighting fires, for them to be effective they needed to provide large volumes at high pressure.
However, even as Gentle was full of praise for his workers, residents and some of the victims of the fire were not satisfied with the efforts of the fire officers. Tularam Lall, who lives on Charlotte Street directly behind Household Plus, said that if the fire service had enough water, the blaze could have been contained much earlier. The man said although the firemen arrived fairly promptly “water was the problem” and they couldn’t contain the blaze. He said while the firemen came with their water, this soon ran out leaving the fire officers in a quandary. According to him, his wife was up cooking sometime after 3 am when she heard a noise coming from the store. She then observed smoke issuing from the store and immediately informed the fire station, he said.
Another resident, Assad Hassan also lamented the absence of a proper water supply. He said he was in his bed when he was told of the fire. According to him, they could have saved the other buildings had the fire engines been equipped with adequate water.
Sadika Vieira, the owner of the two buildings which housed Chino Variety Store, Fullworths General Store and Wireless Connections, was displeased with the efforts of the fire service. The woman did not feel that the fire service was adequately equipped to effectively tackle the inferno.
The woman said that the fire would have led to substantial losses to her family even as she disclosed that the buildings were partially insured.
Proprietor of Wireless Connection Maxwell Thom told reporters yesterday that despite their best efforts they were only able to save stock from the ground floor of the building before the fire engulfed the top flat of the store. The upper flat served as a bond. Thom said that fortunately he was able to remove a few truck loads of items from the store, even as he lamented his losses and the fact that his stock was not insured.
Thom has been operating at his 130 Regent Street location for the last four years and this is one of three branches of the store he manages. He said the store had about 20 employees and with the fire he would have to let go of some of them. The man, who demonstrated great emotional strength throughout the ordeal, later broke down in tears and had to be consoled by relatives.
The owners of Chino Variety Store were also on the scene and they seemed to be affected by the blaze. When this newspaper approached them for comment, they said that they did not speak English. However, this newspaper understands that some of their stock was insured.
Meanwhile, even as police officers tried their best to safeguard against potential looters one incident sparked a showdown between a fire officer and the police. A mini uproar occurred when a police officer on the scene dealt a fire officer, who was dressed in civilian clothes, two blows with a baton in the mistaken belief that he was trying to loot the businesses. The fireman, who is reportedly undergoing training, was riding a bicycle in the barricaded area when the police officer approached him and dealt him the blows, one of which connected to the man’s head. (Additional reporting by Gaulbert Sutherland)