I suppose people have always been fascinated with the element known as fire. It is a necessity. Survival needs would have motivated early human beings to learn ways to utilize fire and now we cannot imagine a world without it.
As children, we were warned not to play with fire. As adults, we pass on the warning to the young ones because we know the benefits as well as the dangers of fires. Fire can quickly destroy material possessions, and parts of nature and take lives. We all would have experienced or witnessed the ruin it leaves.
In childhood, it was a thrilling experience to get one’s hands on a box of matches. Adventures such as lighting paper or cloth would send us into a panic when it looked like the small flame was getting out of control. Pretending to smoke a rolled-up piece of paper or a dry leaf made us feel like we were grown. I suppose that practice continues among some children.
Fire also serves a purpose in Guyanese folklore. The Ol’ Higue is said to move in a ball of fire. Many people believe the Ol’ Higue is myth, but there are others who believe that it does exist and have spoken about their experiences. They hold marks on their skin as evidence, or the unexplained death of a baby or reports about balls of fires floating through the air at night. Myth or reality, without fire the Ol’ Higue would not exist or the idea would be different.
Another feature of Guyanese folklore is the baccoo. When I was growing up, I recall an incident where it was said that baccoos started a fire in the home of a family. The family had gone out and the baccoos apparently had not been fed so their way of showing their discontent was to light a fire. Fortunately, the family reached the home in time to stop the fire. Whether it was baccoos or the fire was from another origin, the devastation if the house had burned down would have been just the same.
Losing a house in a fire is a painful experience. Witnessing a family wail because all their material possessions went up in flames is one of those things one wishes they would never see. And it is worse when lives are lost in those fires. Recently, many tears have been shed because of fires in our country. While there have always been fires, it seems like we are experiencing a season of fires because of the frequency. For the last weeks, news about fires has become a regular occurrence. Some by accident, some electrical but, most disturbing, some by arson.
The stories of relatives or associates who cannot reach agreements over rightful ownership of properties, whether it be businesses or residences, is nothing new and unfortunately has in many instances resulted in arson. It is a disturbing phenomenon. To burn a property because you cannot have it or want those who occupy it gone or to simply seek revenge is not only irresponsible, but dangerous–loss of lives being one of the unfortunate results in some cases. Arsonists may never stop to think about the damage the fires would leave. They maybe never think about the negative effects on the environment. They maybe never think about the people who might be suffering from medical conditions, such as asthma or other illnesses. And if they intentionally set fire to a place knowing that there are occupants that could possibly be trapped, resulting in death, aren’t they murderers?
The fire that killed Hilrod Thomas and his two daughters, Theresa and Clarissa Rozario, in 2014 at Robb and King streets is an example of the deadly results.
Electrical fires are also devastating because sometimes the family might be unaware of the faults with their wiring. In some cases, a family may have no choice but to turn to illegal means of getting electricity because their area might be one of those not yet powered by the Guyana Power and Light Inc. However, the results can be deadly. The death of three-year-old Bianca Sancho, who died in a fire in December in Vigilance on the East Coast of Demerara, reminds us of this.
In another recent case, Leonard Pollard killed his child Nakasia Pollard and her mother Latoya Telford, set the house on fire and then killed himself. We will never know if any of them were alive to feel the heat of the blaze but choosing to die by fire reveals great contempt within oneself. It is disturbing to imagine that anyone would choose to die that way and nightmarish to imagine such suffering.
We must ask ourselves if with the recent fires a copycat trend that is occurring. In a small country such as ours, it is alarming that in a matter of a few months we have seen over 30 buildings go up in flames. What has made the arsonists who have been responsible for many of the fires so comfortable in causing such destruction? There is a crisis and there must be some sort of intervention. People must be cognizant of what is happening around them. Disputes that could possibly end in arson must be reported. The fire service must continue to do its part in educating the public and we must be reminded about those who have lost their lives.
With all else that is happening in our country, one must wonder if the fires are a symptom of a disturbed society crying out for help—a society where many, desperate for an escape or selfish and uncaring about the devastation their actions may cause, have lost hope in humanity.
Ever so often businesses burn in Georgetown. A baker-shop in Buxton on the East Coast burned this week. A few weeks ago, three properties, including a business, burned in Sandy Babb Street, Kitty. There were suspicious circumstances in both fires, which in both cases would have left people unemployed. One never knows if the employees would find another job immediately and what effect it would have on their families.
One hopes that people who would have suffered losses due to fire would have insured their homes and businesses so there would be some way to rebuild and recover.
Why are so many adults playing with fire? Why is it so easy for some to destroy what others would have worked tirelessly to build? Although fire will continue to occur, I hope the recent frequency is at an end.