A fuse box explosion is suspected to be the cause of the La Parfaite Harmonie fire that claimed the lives of two children on Wednesday night.
Andrea James, 10, and Jarvind Alonzo Douglas, 6, both died in the blaze at Lot 689 Independence Street, La Parfaite Harmonie Housing Scheme, on the West Bank Demerara, where they were left unattended by their uncle, who went to a shop in the area to buy phone cards.
Three other children who were asleep in the house at the time the fire started, Andre James, 12, and Brian and Delon Douglas, managed to escape the burning house with minor injuries. Their aunt, Roxanne Douglas, who is the owner of the house, was at a wake in North East La Penitence, in Georgetown at the time and had left the children in her brother’s care.
Stabroek News was told yesterday that the fire is believed to have been caused by the explosion of the fuse box, which led to wires in the ceiling bursting into flames.
Andre James yesterday recounted that he was awakened by heat and when he opened his eyes saw his mosquito net on fire.
“I wake up and I see the netting on fire and I run to see if I could get my cousin but the entire place was already on fire and I jump through the window and I run at the back of the house,” said James, who sustained burns on his ears and bruises when he jumped out of the window.
He explained that he tried desperately to get his sister and cousins out of the burning house but they were in the other rooms and rapidly spreading fire forced him to jump through the window, leaving them behind. After he jumped out of the window, he said he immediately summoned the help of neighbours, who came to their assistance.
According to the grieving West Demerara Secondary School student, he and his sister had been living with their aunt while his father worked overseas. His mother died some five years ago.
Giving his account of his escape, Delon Douglas, meanwhile, said that he was asleep in the back room along with Andre and was awakened by his brother, Brian. He later jumped through the window like the others because the flames had already engulfed the front door.
“When the fire start from the bathroom, me brother wake me and then the fire start to burn me hair and then after I get mad and break up them louvre window at the side and I jump through the window,” he recalled.
According to the children’s aunt, she left home around 7:15pm for a wake in Georgetown and it was around 10 pm, as she was preparing to leave, that she received the message that her house was on fire.
“…I left my phone on the table to tell my friend that I was leaving and then I was informed that my neighbour called and said that the house on fire,” Roxanne Douglas said, adding that her friends then dropped her home. “…When I arrived, I immediately began looking for the children but was only greeted by the three,” she added.
Amidst tears, Douglas noted that when she received the call about the fire, she tried contacting her brother, who was supposed to be at home with the children, but he did not answer his phone.
She was later informed that he left to buy phone cards and by the time he returned the roof of the house had already caved in and the two children were trapped inside.
Meanwhile, neighbour Amanda Bishop was watching television when she heard another resident calling for the children in the house. She said that she did not pay much heed to the calls because the children were often out late, but after the calls became frequent she looked outside and saw flames emanating from the back window of the Douglas house.
“…I saw the fire coming through the back window, so I went and wake up my children to come, because we have a pressure washer and we said is something small, so we could have put it out.
But when I came out, I saw the children and we told them to jump, that we gon’ catch them but the fire was too much,” she explained.
The flames spread rapidly, according to Bishop, engulfing the entire roof and preventing neighbours from entering the house so that they could rescue the two trapped children. She added that fire tender took some time to arrive on scene, by which time the entire roof had caved in on the children.
She identified the six-feet-high iron bar at the end of Independence Street and the beginning of the housing scheme, which is intended to prevent large vehicles from entering, as one of the factors that may have hindered the prompt arrival of the fire-fighters. As a result of the bar and about twenty-one speed bumps, the fire trucks had to drive approximately six additional miles to get to the scene.
“The bar needs to go,” Bishop said.