Dozens lose homes in Plaisance mystery fire

Residents helping to remove items from the burning houses.

Mashramani celebrations ground to halt for several families yesterday afternoon, when approximately 30 persons lost their homes after a fire of unknown origin ripped through three Victoria Road, Plaisance properties, including an apartment building.

The fire was reported to have started around 2.20 pm in the apartment building, located at Lot 40-41 Victoria Road, Plaisance, East Coast Demerara, before spreading to two other houses, including one which was recently renovated. They were all destroyed.

The fire ripped through the wooden and concrete structures in a matter of minutes, during which loud explosions and the shattering of glass could be heard.

Two nearby buildings, including the residence of Shirley Cummings, the owner of the apartment building, were also scorched by the flames.

When Stabroek News arrived at the scene, residents had already blocked off the Railway Embankment and were even seen diverting traffic. A large crowd gathered and watched on as villagers filled buckets of water from nearby trenches to put out the fire.

A number of policemen and firefighters subsequently arrived and took up their positions. However, villagers were heard expressing their anger at the way in which the firefighters operated upon arriving at the scene. “Y’all ain’t doing nothing hay. Is we, the Plaisance people, doing the wuk,” one woman shouted.

Guyana Fire Service Fire Prevention Office Andrew Holder, however, said that a lack of water, wind direction and the impediment posed by the crowd hampered their efforts in saving the recently renovated house on the southern side of the apartment building.

“When the firefighters arrived at the scene, an old hotel, which is being converted into an apartment building, was fully engulfed. There wasn’t much to be salvaged from it, so immediately we went into firefighting mode trying to save nearby buildings,” Holder told reporters.

No injuries were reported, he said, while noting than an investigation will be launched to determine the cause of the fire.

‘It all happened so fast’

Cummings, who was busy soaking her house, briefly said that she was in her shop, situated in the lower flat of her house, when she was alerted to the fire by screams from an individual. “I was in the shop and somebody seh smoke in the other building and dah is wah put we on the alert and we start to get buckets and them chaps start to bring water and start throwing,” she said.

Rowena Glasgow, a seamstress who occupied one of the apartments, said she had just left home to join the Mashramani celebrations in Georgetown when she received a call from her daughter, who informed her of the fire. “I just lef home, like I reach to Kitty, and meh daughter call meh and tell me somebody told her that the house is on fire and I leh the taxi turn right back and I turn back home,” Glasgow said.

The teary-eyed woman said it was the second time that she lost all her valuables as a result of a fire. The last fire, she said, occurred a few years ago when she was residing along the Plaisance Railway Embankment.

“It all happened so fast,” Glasgow declared.

While unable to calculate her losses, Glasgow emphasised that she lost everything, “I am a seamstress and I had a lot of work for the National Library and other places … I bought a new brand machine about two months ago and I bought it cash. I had meh passport with meh Visa, everything. I had meh jewellery, I had money,” she noted.

Vernon Klass, a barber at the Bourda Post Office, who lived with his wife and three children, ages five, four and nine, at a house located behind the apartment building, was at work when he learned that their home was on fire.

“I really don’t know what to say now. I lost everything. I recently bought a 49-inch television because, you know, Christmas and them thing and we um recently renovate the whole back. We had to plumb, some of the structure did damage and so on and I moved in there for Christmas, so I made some new purchases and so on. So, everything destroyed,” Klass explained.

‘Lost everything’

Keith Chester, who returned home from the interior about an hour prior to the fire, said he had been occupying one of the apartments for the past 10 years. He had been gone for the past five months. “I came from the interior today. I went up, leave my bag, put my priorities right and decide to come down and buy a drink fuh meh friends them after five months,” Chester related.

He said he was nearby on the road when he was approached by a man who asked him if he knew of the fire.

Chester said he immediately ran to his apartment. “…So, I run upstairs now, trying to find out where—if is by my apartment—was the fire but there was no fire there. [I was] trying to get into my apartment, the smoke was coming from downstairs of the apartment, so I said, ‘Oh my god, I just wanted to collect my documents, to put myself in order so that Monday morning I could go get my lil ‘picking’ and that was it.’ I have lost everything,” he said.

The recently renovated house that was destroyed is said to have been occupied by members of the Hetsberger family, who had not returned up to when the fire was put out.

Some residents living nearby were, however, spared from tragedy.

Stacy Richards was heard continuously praising God for saving her house, which was scorched.

According to Richards, she was partaking in the Mashramani celebrations along Vlissengen Road when she got a call from a friend, who told her the houses next door were burning.

She said after learning this, she immediately called her husband but couldn’t get through to him. “He was nowhere to be found but thank god he was home still, so he was able to mobilise individuals to help assist to soak our home,” she added.

Richards said her water tanks were destroyed and the roof of her house was damaged due to the fire.