A morning fire of unknown origin yesterday flattened a building at the corner of Regent and Wellington streets, destroying six businesses and leaving millions of dollars in losses and several dozen persons jobless.
Heavy grill work and other security features on the building retarded fire-fighters but after relentless efforts, they managed to contain the blaze while store owners and employees from nearby stores rushed to save what they could.
It is believed that the fire had started long before persons spotted smoke coming out of the roof. The stores destroyed were Dulip Variety Store, Akash Variety Store, Prakash Discount Store, Smart Choice, Manu’s Variety and another whose name this newspaper could not ascertain. The stores, opposite the Guyoil gas station, sold items ranging from garments, electronics, school supplies to cosmetics.
Fire Chief Marlon Gentle told Stabroek News at the scene that a call was received at around 5:35am and eight fire tenders responded immediately. He said that when the fire-fighters arrived, the blaze was at its severest and there was a lot of smoke. He said that the building was “as you can see grill up, shutter up” which posed a challenge.
The fire chief said because of how the building was secured, it meant that the fire was burning for a very long time before it was noticed. “Is till when it hit the roof and the smoke coming out that it was noticed. We would have had a half an hour to an hour burning before it was discovered,” he said.
Gentle noted that while the late discovery and the heavy security features were challenges, fire-fighters still had to work quickly to protect nearby buildings. He said too that the safety of his men also had to be taken into consideration, given the items that were stored in those buildings.
He said that all the fire engines that arrived were fully equipped with water.
When Stabroek News arrived, the police had already cordoned off the area and three fire trucks were in full operation. There was thick smoke coming from the rubble, which was formerly the Jaigobinds building, as shocked store owners and employees looked on.
Pockets of fire were also visible and at one point, firemen had to rush back into the building to put out a fresh blaze. After about two and half hours, the fire was under control and the threat to nearby buildings had been reduced significantly.
Indian national, Dulip Kumar- who has been renting a section of the building which housed three of the stores for about eight years – said that his losses are in the vicinity of $10 million. The stores he owned were Dulip Variety Store, Akash Variety Store and Prakash Discount Store
His eyes red from crying, he said that he received a call at around 6am and was told that there was a fire in his store. He said he rushed down to check and as he arrived, he realized that it was true. His stores were located from the end of the building at Wellington and Regent streets going west.
The man, trying to explain the scope of the damage, said that the stores were located on the lower flat of the two storey building while the upper flat was used as a store room. He said that the building was insured.
Jagdish Narine the owner of Smart Choice was busy overseeing the removal of items from his store. He told reporters that he could not estimate his losses at the moment. He recalled that when he arrived, the flames had not reached his building and then “all of a sudden it was engulfed”. Narine said that he sold beauty products, clothing and other items at his business.
The owner of the building, Vidushie Ramkumar was not on the scene but according to her brother Vivekanand Gansan at around 6:30am he was informed that there was a fire on Regent Street. The man said that when he arrived “the entire building was on fire.” He said that there was no way that the building could have been saved.
He commended the fire service for their response but said that when he arrived several fire engines were on the scene but only one was working. This is the third fire in Regent Street in as many years.
There were two fires in October 2009. The first occurred on October 9 at Lots 142-143 Regent Road, Bourda. It started at Regent Household Electronics store, between Albert and Light streets where persons witnessed the wire leading to the building sparking before flames fanned out, aided by strong winds. The nearby DM Sales Beauty World store was also gutted though some stock on the ground floor appeared to have escaped intact. Two houses at the back of these buildings were destroyed while nearby structures suffered substantial damage.
Nine days later on October 18 Household Plus, the Chino Variety, Slim Jet, Fullworths General Store and Wireless Connections were gutted by a mysterious early morning fire.
An investigation by the Guyana Fire Service later revealed that it was arson. The report said that the fire “was caused by incendiary devices thrown into the Household Plus Store by persons who gained access to the building from the alleyway running from Cummings Street to Orange Walk between Charlotte and Regent Streets.”
In the case of the earlier fire, there was insufficient evidence to arrive at a cause and as such its origin remains unknown. (Additional reporting by Gaulbert Sutherland)