Six months after a major conflagration ravaged 60 per cent of its compound and left billions of dollars of damage in its wake, tragedy struck again last evening at the Gafoor’s Houston Complex this time destroying a bond in the process.
This occurs as Guyana observes for Fire Preven-tion Week, with government announcing its intention to spend some $113 million to boost firefighting equipment, as well as construct two new fire stations at Lethem and on the East Coast Demerara.
When Stabroek News arrived at the Lot 1 and 2 Area ‘X’ Houston Complex around 7 pm, the fire was raging, while a crowd of curious bystanders had converged on the scene. A small group of employees had gathered around Gafoor’s Executive Chairman Sattaur Gafoor.
The businessman was unable to say what transpired or what time the fire would have started, since operations at the complex had concluded and employees had left for the day, before they were alerted about the blaze.
Further questioning revealed that the fire had engulfed the western section of the building where the bonds were located. This was where the previous fire had also started before rapidly spreading to other sections of the complex.
However, this time, the fire was said to have started in Bond 6, which, according to Gafoor, was used to store white cement, tiles and sanitary wares.
Fire Chief Marlon Gentle told media operatives that the Fire Service had received a call alerting it to smoke emanating from the complex at around 6 pm yesterday. In response, units were dispatched from the West Ruimveldt and Alberttown Fire Stations. Upon their arrival at the scene, the firefighters reported that the complex was under threat from the heavy fire conditions.
This threat prompted additional resources being dispatched to the scene. Fortunately, he said, units responded quickly enough and were able to attack the fire at a very early stage and contain it to the single bond.
About an hour later, while Stabroek News was still on the scene, it became obvious that the fire was close to being extinguished.
When asked about the possible cause of the fire, the Fire Chief said, “What I’m seeing here suggests that there was not enough diligence in this area. This fire should not have happened; that is all I am going to say right now.”
On May 9, the fire which had started in the bond area had quickly spread to the rest of the complex and saw all of the Guyana Fire Service’s available resources being utilized. While firefighters eventually succeeded in containing the fire, a total of six firemen had to be treated for injuries from smoke inhalation and as a result of a wall collapsing and pinning three of them under the rubble.
In its aftermath, that fire had left significant damage and scores of employees being redeployed to other Gafoor’s branches across the country. According to the Fire Chief, preliminary investigations conducted indicated that the devastating fire was “accidental in nature.”
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper a short while after, Gafoor explained that the underwriters had said that this fire was one of the largest they had dealt with and the insurance payout was expected to amount to billions.
At that time, Gafoor had estimated that damage to the building was some $12 billion, excluding the cost of the merchandise destroyed. He had further stated that they had to answer a lot of questions and provide records for the value of the stocks up to the time of the fire to the insurance company.
“We have been able to provide stocks up to the date prior to the fire and we had some difficulties to get up records for the day of the fire but fortunately they [underwriters] have accepted a pro-rata basis for sales made and valuation of stocks around the same time. So by and large I think we are about 80% where the stocks are concerned,” Gafoor had told this newspaper.
In a statement issued yesterday, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said statistics have revealed that 75 buildings were destroyed by fires for the year so far, while 17 were severely damaged.
Most of the fires, he said, involved dwelling houses, leaving a number of persons homeless. In addition, 24 lives were lost, including the 17 prisoners who died in the Camp Street Prison fire in March.
“Certainly, these fires have left scars on the lives and the minds of the persons affected and by extension their families and communities,” the minister’s statement said.
However, he added, government intended to invest $30 million to begin the first phase of two new fire stations at Melanie Damishana on the East Coast Demerara and Lethem in Region Nine.
Additionally, $83 million will be spent on acquiring more fire tenders and water browsers.
“The Ministry of Public Security, is partnering with the Ministry of Public Health to expand the Emergency Medical Ser-vices using a larger fleet of ambulances and personnel to cover all of Guyana, with the first phase becoming operational in November,” the statement said.