Tens of millions of dollars was yesterday lost after a fire tore through a storage bond on the southern side of Duncan Street, between Stone Avenue and Bel Air Road, despite the efforts of city firemen.
According to residents, four fire tenders arrived on the scene within minutes to extinguish the blaze which gutted every room of the two-storey structure, including its freezer rooms.
The bond belongs to Guyanese businessman Goolmohamed Rahaman who is currently overseas and who was hit by two other fires last year. Rahaman’s son, 33 year old Mohamed Jaleel Rahaman told Stabroek News that he was alerted to the fire around 7.30 am by one of his workers who stays with the family at the premises.
Shaking hands and soot-covered garments revealed that Rahaman may have played a role in putting out the fire.
He said the man started shouting to him that there was smoke coming from the bond. Upon hearing this Rahaman said he ordered the bond’s electric doors open so he could investigate and was greeted by a thick cloud of smoke. “I run fuh de garden hose and start spraying the place but it wasn’t helping so I tell dem call the fire station, ten minutes later the fire truck come,” said Rahaman. He said that the fire started on the top floor of the building and quickly spread to the other parts because of the kinds of goods that were being stored in the building.
One resident said that when she left for church around 7.20am the fire had not yet started. She said that she came out of her house around 7.10am and went up the road before returning. She said that she then sat at her door until about 7.20am. Up until that time she said there were no visible signs of a fire or even smoke at the bond which is located directly east of her apartment.
At midday firemen had already extinguished the flames but continued to saturate the premises to ensure a resurgence did not occur. To prevent the fire from spreading, they had soaked Rahaman’s residence, located west of the bond. The building to the east was not threatened since it was almost twenty feet away.
The members of the Guyana Fire Service said that the measures were precautionary since two factors made the possibility of a rekindling very real. As such, he said, they were not sure when the precautionary measure would be halted.
One of the officers said “we can’t leave the scene with the smoke still so strong, where smoke still deh, fire still deh.” He said that “a lot of tuna, butter, sardines and other oil-based goods, which can act as fuel for the fire, were present and posed an additional threat.”
This is not the first time the family, which has been involved in business for years has been inconvenienced by a fire.
Last May, firemen responded to and battled a fire at the G Bacchus Enterprises, formally MFK Trading on Hadfield Street, also owned by Goolmohamed. This newspaper was told that the interior was totally destroyed and from all appearances nothing was saved. Goolmohamed, when contacted, had told this newspaper that $400 million in stock had been reduced to ashes. He said that he began the process of building the outlet in 2010 and paid the last installment on it in February. He refuted claims that the fire was started by an exploding generator, saying that there was more to the fire.
Last October misfortune once again visited the business owner when his stall in Bourda Market was set alight. This time however, the disaster was averted after the Guyana Fire Service responded promptly and contained the blaze, preventing it from spreading to the other stalls. He said what was not lost to the fire was destroyed by water damage.
He estimated his losses this time at around $10 million.
This time Goolmohamed said he was convinced that the fire was deliberately set as the smell of gasoline was evident just after the fire erupted and workers who responded to the report of fire saw evidence that some mischief was afoot. He showed this newspaper a section of a thin pan which he said was slipped under the shutter and the grill so that gasoline could then poured into the pan and run into the stall as well as the outside wall.
He said he suspected a man he had a business transaction with and he said he hopes that the police could issue a wanted bulletin for this individual since he cannot be located.
He explained that he had conducted a business transaction with the individual but after he had paid the agreed price and “the papers done write up and so on then he come and demand more money from me.” The man said he refused to pay any additional sum since as far as he was concerned the business transaction was over.
He said that since the end of the transaction he has received calls from anonymous persons threatening him and his family. Rahaman told this newspaper that after the Bourda fire, “I get another call and a man on the other end tell me that ‘we bun you stall we coming to you home for you and you children next.”
Stabroek News also learned that about two months ago a fire broke out at another of the man’s bonds, situated directly opposite the one which burnt yesterday. A resident said that the fire was quickly extinguished and the family hired a guard after that occurrence to watch over the building.
Yesterday Rahaman reiterated his father’s suspicions. He said that though they have not received threats since the beginning of the year, he is still suspicious that that fire could have been intentionally set.
Nevertheless, he said that it would have been difficult for an intruder to set the fire. Rahaman explained that the bond was locked on Saturday evening before he retired. It should be noted that all points of entry to the bond were either grilled or electronically controlled.
Rahaman admitted that the only way the fire could have been started from the inside was if it had been breached, which he was not sure of.
The man complained that several complaints and reports have been made to the Kitty and Brickdam Police Stations about threats. He said that the police have also been supplied with phone numbers from which the threats were made, yet nothing had been done.