[Video] Hundreds of workers face uncertainty as fire guts Gafoor’s Houston Complex

Hundreds of employees of the Gafoor’s Houston Complex and associated businesses housed there face uncertainty after a massive fire destroyed several sections of the multi-billion dollar complex yesterday afternoon, leaving behind billions of dollars in damage.

When Stabroek News arrived at the Lot 1 & 2 Area “X” Houston complex around 4.30 pm, a large crowd comprising employees and curious bystanders had already converged. Other workers were seen working quickly to remove as gas cylinders from a section of the building before fire engulfed that area.

Up to press time last night, the origin of the fire which engulfed the A Gafoor and Sons Ltd flagship branch, had not been determined.

The bonds where the fire reportedly started continued to burn into the last evening even as firefighters worked tirelessly to extinguish the fire. (Photo by Keno George)
The bonds where the fire reportedly started continued to burn into the last evening even as firefighters worked tirelessly to extinguish the fire. (Photo by Keno George)

However, given the nature of the business—hardware store and bonds—it was clear that the highly combustible products housed in the bonds were acting as accelerants.

According to Fire Chief Marlon Gentle, several calls were received around 3.50 pm yesterday, alerting the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) of smoke and fire emanating from the Houston complex. He said units were dispatched from the West Ruimveldt Fire Station and GFS’s Headquarters near the Stabroek Market. On their arrival, fire fighters were said to have encountered heavy smoke and flames, in two of the bonds, which began spreading rapidly.

Gentle explained that while the members of the GFS on the scene made attempts to contain the fire in the two bonds, further instructions were given to secure all of the resources available in Georgetown to help fight the blaze. Around seven fire tenders were observed at the scene.

Firefighters were fortunate to source water from a nearby canal throughout the entire ordeal, but the fire proved to be too much for them as two hours later it had spread east, eating through other sections of the complex. Firefighters had broken through the front of the complex and were tackling it from different angles. And about an hour later, they had contained it to a section towards the middle of the complex, where it continued to burn up to press time last night.

“Right now, we are holding back the fire but it is a massive fire. There are different bonds which housed varying combustible products,” Gentle told reporters last night. He noted that firefighters also had to deal with safety

concerns since the scene was not as easily accessible. Nevertheless, the men and women of the GFS were seen working tirelessly to maintain control of the fire and prevent it from extending to the wharf area.

 

Firefighters struggling to contain the fire at the Gafoor’s Houston Complex early yesterday afternoon. (Photo by Keno George)
Firefighters struggling to contain the fire at the Gafoor’s Houston Complex early yesterday afternoon. (Photo by Keno George)

“This is going to be a long haul,” Gentle added. “It’s not going to be an easy fix but we have enough equipment here on the ground.”

Executive Chairman of A Gafoor and Sons, Sattaur Gafoor, was sitting across from the blaze looking on helplessly as the building burned.

He said he estimated his losses to be billions of dollars. The damage to the building alone was projected at some $12 billion and the cost of the merchandise destroyed would have to be added to that.

Gafoor related that around 4.10 pm yesterday, he was informed that a fire had started in Bond Three, which is located at the western end of the compound.

Members of the Guyana Fire Service as they fought to prevent the fire from spreading to the remaining sections of the building at the Gafoor’s Houston Complex yesterday. (Photo by Keno George)
Members of the Guyana Fire Service as they fought to prevent the fire from spreading to the remaining sections of the building at the Gafoor’s Houston Complex yesterday. (Photo by Keno George)

Shortly after the smoke began building up, Gafoor said, he ordered everyone to evacuate the building. However, at that time, he said, he did not anticipate that the fire would have reached the level it did.

He expressed the opinion that while the fire started in Bond Three, once it spread there was hardly any hope of saving the remaining 14 bonds which housed general merchandise inclusive of building materials, paints, and associated products some of which were highly combustible.

And while he credited the GFS for its prompt response, Gafoor noted that it was unfortunate that two of their engines had malfunctioned and some of the hoses were damaged.

 

Employees of Gafoors Houston Complex are asked to report to the Corrugated Bond for a meeting today, Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 8 am.

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