The Vivienne Parris Health Centre at Central Mackenzie, Linden went up in flames early this morning leaving Lindeners in disbelief and disgust.
The fire is believed to be electrical in nature but the possibility of arson has not been ruled out. Linden has been hit by a spate of suspected arson in the wake of month-long protests over higher power tariffs. The destroyed buildings include the One Mile Primary School on August 12 which left residents in shock and which they have vowed to rebuild.
Security guard Jason Castillo said that today’s fire started at 4.17 am in the first room of the health facility. He said that at the time he was in the guard hut which is in close proximity to the building. “The fire was like electrical because the building start sparking loud, loud and the lights started blinking on and off, on and off”, said the man at the scene of the fire. He said he immediately called 912 and was informed that they were going to convey the report to the Linden Fire Service which they did.
The fire service arrived on the scene approximately twenty minutes after the fire started and was able to save only a small section of the building. Obliquely opposite the health centre is the Egbert Benjamin Conference Centre where its security guard said that he overheard heavy, crackling sounds which were followed by a fierce blaze.
“I was doing my rounds when I heard the splatie, splatie sound like sparks, it was very loud”, said the man who immediately abandoned his post and ran over to the health centre. He said that he assisted Castillo to break open the room where the fire was but was only able to save a few files and two benches. “Deh fire got wild very quick so there wasn’t much we could have done and the fire reel come up”, he added.
At the time of SN’s arrival on the scene the greater part of the U-shaped building was gutted and the fire-fighters were dousing the building. The two security guards were standing opposite and a number of police officers were on the scene including Divisional Commandant E&F, Gavin Primo and Officer-in-Charge of Region 10, Senior Superintendent of Police Michael Sutton.
Arson is not being ruled out as there was evidence of fresh movement in the thick vegetation to the back of the building. The speed of the fire also pointed to the possibility of an accelerant. According to residents of the nearby community of Retrieve, there has always been a track to the back of the building but it had been overgrown and not in use for quite some time. “This thing is suspicious, I have a strong feeling the sparking sound was not pure electrical, it was too loud to be those simple electrical wires in that building, something is not matching up, I am not saying there were no electrical sparks but there is something else to this”, said a resident in disgust.
Several persons on the scene condemned the quality of the fire engines in Linden. According to residents it was an outright shame that the engines on the scene were ill-equipped to pump water from the Demerara River which is just across the road from the health centre. “It was such a shame to see the river is right here, they run deh hose to it but like deh pump had a problem. Deh had to left deh scene and go heavens knows where to get water and come back”, commented a resident.
There were not many persons on the scene at the health centre, but among them was Member of Parliament, Vanessa Kissoon who said when she got word of a health centre being on fire she thought it was at Wismar. “I was about to call for transportation when I got another call only to find out it’s the health centre right in my backyard.” The Member of Parliament – one of the key leaders in Linden – said that at the end of the day the investigations will testify as to the true cause of the fire but as for now she is not ruling out foul play. “There are some destructive elements still around trying to pin blame on persons who have been protesting for justice for the past month so I will not rule out arson at this stage”, she said.
The Vivienne Parris Health Centre was the thirteenth property to have been obliterated by fire since July 18. On July 18, the night when three protesters: Shemroy Bouyea, Allan Lewis and Ron Sommerset were killed by the police, the Linmine Secretariat building was gutted while the others were destroyed on August 10 after the Joint Services once again opened fire on protestors using pellets and tear gas. Two toll huts, the IDCE office, the LECI office, the Linden Care Foundation, the GRA office, Cheryl’s Delight; all in the Linmine Secretariat’s complex at Mackenzie were destroyed by fire. On the Wismar shore the One Mile Primary School, three building in the compound of the Linden Salvation Council at Silvertown and the Regional Agricultural Office at Christianburg were all razed.
The Vivienne Parris Health Centre and the Linden Concert Hall and School (LICHAS) are separated by a fence which sits on the lower part of Republic Avenue, Mackenzie, Linden.
Persons close to the protest including the opposition and regional leaders have been constantly condemning the destruction of the properties especially that of the institution of learning.
Yesterday, hundreds of residents commenced the clearing away of the rubble at the One Mile Primary School in preparation for rebuilding. Minister of Education Priya Manickchand is expected in the town today to meet with parents, teachers and local education officials to discuss the way forward for pupils for the beginning of the new academic year in September.
The health centre fire occurred as tensions were easing in the town after several agreements were reached between Region 10 and the Government over the protest issues. Roads into and out of the town have been reopened.