Classes were suspended yesterday after an early morning fire ravaged a section of the four-storey Wismar Christianburg Secondary School gutting the top flat, while there was severe water and other damage to classrooms on the second and third storey and at least one teacher’s apartment in the bottom flat.
Teacher Roxanne Bacchus who lives in one of the teachers’ quarters first noticed the fire some time after 2.30 am. According to one of her three children who were in the apartment at the time, her mother woke her up telling her that something was amiss.
“First, she said like water come on early and overflowing cause water was flowing down from upstairs,” the young woman recalled. She said her mother then said, “Nah man, that sounding really funny and with that she went outside and all we hear she start screaming fire, fire.” The children then rushed off to alert other occupants in the lower flat while Bacchus ran to her neighbours for help.
Bacchus was taken to the Linden Hospital Complex shortly after being given assistance to evacuate her children and belongings from the apartment. There are eight apartments, but one is unoccupied and one is under repairs.
One of the neighbours who responded after the alarm was raised told Stabroek News that by the time he got to the scene the fire was raging on the top storey. “The first thing we did was to ensure that all the people living downstairs were evacuated and in a safe place and then we fight hard to break open the gates,” he said. The second, third and fourth floors are usually secured by metal sliding gates.
Another eyewitness who lives at the back of the building said he was watching television when he heard the screams of fire. He said he immediately rushed outside but didn’t notice the fire at first. “Is when I look again I see this big blaze of fire coming from the roof like in the middle of the top floor.”
Another resident recalled hearing what she thought were the sounds of large firecrackers, “Then I listen good and it was this constant cracking sound like plenty sparking and dah is when I went outside and see de fire on the multi building.”
Sammy, a resident who had been helping fire fighters put out the blaze, performed a bit of heroics, quickly grabbing a fireman who had started falling through a section of the top floor that had started to give way during the blaze. “I barely see he slipping through the floor and me and dem man had to snatch he and pulled he up or that would have been another thing.” The man said the concrete floor had weakened and the unsuspecting fireman had stepped on it, causing the floor to cave in. Sammy and the firemen quickly held on to the man, pulling him to safety and averting another tragedy.
Head Teacher Cleveland Thomas said he received a telephone call at his Amelia’s Ward home around 4 am alerting him about the fire. He said at first he thought it was a hoax but a second phone call shortly after prompted him to investigate. “After the second call I decided to call 911 and they confirmed that they had received the report and that the fire department at Linden had responded,” Thomas said, adding that by the time he got to the scene, fire fighters had contained the blaze to the upper flat of the building.
“There are about three rooms involved there, the top floor female toilets to the staff room. I don’t know what is happening on the middle floor but [from] what I can see it’s the top floor and only three rooms affected, thank God, because it could have been worse and the fire fighters and the persons who assisted must be complemented,” he added.
Thomas said he had no idea what could have caused the fire but noted that an electrical panel was housed in the section of the floor where the fire was. He was also quick to note that there were no reports of electrical problems at the school before it closed on Tuesday.
The head teacher said classroom sessions would be suspended for the 1,154 students for the day, while the 56 teaching staff plan their next step so that too many teaching hours are not lost.
The school was preparing to host a PTA yesterday and its 31st Annual Prize giving exercise which Thomas said will not be affected. “The fifth forms would not be affected because they are on the bottom flat. The Home Economics Department is intact; the labs are intact so the interruption of session would not be extensive,” he said.
According to a reliable source, on Tuesday a student had angrily threatened to burn down the school after he had not been successful in retrieving a Blackberry cell phone from the head teacher. It is alleged that Thomas had taken the phone from the student but when he turned up to retrieve it at the end of the school day he was told that the head teacher was not at school. “He well and carry on saying how he gon bun down de school,” the source said, quickly adding that the subsequent fire may just be a coincidence.
Hundreds of residents, including Regional Chairman Mortimer Mingo and Regional Executive Officer Henry Rodney and students converged at the scene. Mingo expressed gratitude that the fire was quickly contained, given the limited resources available to the fire fighters, noting the need for a fire station at Wismar. He said Wismar is a very large area that boasts several primary, secondary and nursery schools and a hospital.
Rodney joined a team of regional workers to assess the extent of the damage and to pool ideas for immediate interventions. Some spectators were lending a helping hand while some were inquiring about the planned PTA session and graduation exercise. By sunrise the larger portion of the crowed had dispersed.
After 7 am a number of students were seen clad in their uniforms heading to school as per normal. Many of then were not aware of the fire and on hearing of the incident some hastened to the scene while others burst into tears. “Is wrong news dey giving de children telling them dat de whole school bun down. People wicked man, dey ain’t went on de scene and dey traumatizing de poor children with wrong information,” a boat captain complained as he made a special effort to console the weeping students.