An early morning fire yesterday destroyed a section of the L’ Aventure Secondary School, at Canal Number One, West Bank Demerara, likely displacing some of the school’s nearly 700 students just three days into the new school term.
The fire is suspected to be electrical in origin but when Stabroek News contacted Fire Chief Marlon Gentle, he had not yet received any information on the possible cause as his officers were still at the scene investigating.
The fire, which was first spotted just before 8 am, gutted the section of the building that housed the school’s office, its Form Two classrooms, the Home Economics Department and the library.
Fire Service responders came in for praise from residents and school officials for their hard work in ensuring that the fire was under control before it had engulfed the entire structure, which is made of wood and concrete. Fire-fighters with the help of residents managed to save the wooden section in front and the concrete section at the back of the burnt-out portion.
While no one recalled seeing sparking electrical wiring or anything suspicious prior to the fire, Headmistress Althea Daniels-Stuart told Stabroek News at the scene there were electrical issues in the building. Asked if reports had been made about this, she said “plenty.”
When contacted about this, the Chief Education Officer, Olato Sam told this newspaper that he could not speak to the reports as he was not advised about such a situation. Sam added that if reports were made, it was probably being dealt with at a regional level.
When Stabroek News arrived at the scene, the fire was under control. Although no fire was evident, fire-fighters were still spraying water on the blackened section.
Groups of children were seen walking back home, while a handful remained outside the school and teachers were seated under a nearby shop.
Anthony Arthur, who lives next door to the school, told Stabroek News that after smelling something burning he went to his back door to investigate the origin. The man said that when he looked up, he saw a small fire in the school’s office, which is housed in the section which was burnt. “We kick open the door but by the time we kick open the door the smoke was so much we had to withdraw,” he recalled, while noting that residents formed a bucket brigade but in no time the fire spread.
He said that the fire-fighters arrived about 20 minutes later with water and managed to get the fire under control. “They wuk hard, they try their best, especially the officer in charge, he was pushy and he had them pon they foot,” Arthur said.
He said that there had never been an issue with sparking wires and that there was no blackout prior to the fire. He said that it was when the fire started that the blackout occurred.
Meanwhile, Daniels-Stuart said she received a telephone call at 7:48 am that there was a fire at the school. No one was occupying that section where the fire started although a teacher and several students were in the rear of the school.
The school, which has a student population of 699 as well as 34 teachers, has no day guard and the night guard would have already left at the time of the fire, Daniels-Stuart said. She recalled that only on Sunday afternoon some repairs were done to the building and this included the installation of glass windows and the fixing of a defective stairway.
Ask about interim plans, she said that “we are going to meet, put mechanisms in place so that by tomorrow we can start having classes at some location or at least we would be able to tell them definitively where we would have classes….”
She added, “I assured them that we are on top of this. I mean the building or a significant portion of the building has gone but we are going to make arrangements… we will probably work a shift system but we will do whatever it takes to keep pushing education forward.”
Daniels-Stuart was unsure if the other sections of the building can be occupied because “we are not allowed to go in but most likely there is water damage.”
She noted that the fire service did an excellent job, especially considering where the fire-fighters had come from and the time the fire occurred. “It could have been the entire complex…,” she said.
The headmistress has been at the school for the past year and during this time she said “it has been challenging but we have started the turn around to positive.”