Skeletal remains, suspected to be those of an elderly Plaisance resident, were yesterday discovered in the ruins of the Victoria Road, Plaisance, East Coast Demerara apartment building that was razed by a mystery fire on Friday.
James Johnson, 80, a father of seven, is believed to have perished in the fire, which reportedly started in a section of the apartment building where he resided. The fire destroyed the apartment building and two houses, leaving some 30 victims, including several children, seeking temporary shelter at the community centre in the area.
A source close to the investigation told Sunday Stabroek that Guyana Fire Service investigators returned to the scene yesterday morning to continue their investigation and they learnt that everyone was accounted for except Johnson.
As a result, a search was launched and they subsequently found the remains.
Sunday Stabroek learnt that after the fire erupted on Friday, residents and his relatives continuously searched for him.
Johnson’s son, known to the area as ‘Puri Man,’ had related to the searchers that his father must have been in Georgetown at a relative’s house as was customary.
Indira Bissoon, who occupied an apartment next door to Johnson, said she took care of him and thought of him as her father. “We were living next to each other and I does look out fuh he like a daughter,” she said.
Bissoon explained that before she left home to join the Mashramani celebrations on Friday, she asked Johnson if he wanted to join her but he said no and chose to stay home. “Ah seh, ‘Grandfadah, yuh want to come with me?’ He seh no, he just want relax, he just tired ’cause he ride all the way to come from town and I seh, ‘Alright yuh could go lie down,’” she recalled.
Bissoon said despite his refusal, she still asked again but he didn’t change his mind. “… Meh seh one more time, ‘Grandfadah, yuh want to come with me to Mash? Yuh ain’t got to fight yuh self.’ He seh, ‘No, meh daughter I ain’t want guh.’ Suh, ah seh alright, ’cause he tablet gah he drowsy, drowsy, and ah carry over thing fuh he eat and… I ain’t see he back,” she further related.
According to Bissoon, when she returned home, the fire was already put out but she could not find Johnson anywhere.
As a result, she said she immediately launched a search, calling several of his relatives and friends, none of whom saw Johnson. “Ah did searching fuh he but ah couldn’t see nothing. All yuh coulda see was thick, thick smoke in yuh face,” Bissoon said.
“I asking everybody and everybody seh they aint see he,” she added.
Bissoon said she then suspected that Johnson might have been trapped in the fire. “Meh turn and tell me husband he musse get caught up in the fire and them children seh yes, he musse get caught up and I turn and seh man this nah guh right because through here everybody does look out for each and other body,” she noted.
The position of the remains that were found suggested that the person was trying to get out of the burning building when he/she perished.
Also at the scene yesterday afternoon were two of Johnson’s daughters.
One of the daughters, Donna Bazil, said that she and her siblings were shown the remains. “It was just bones. We couldn’t recognise anything but they say they have to do tests to confirm it’s him,” she added.
Bazil said her father is a very active person for his age. “He use to ride from Plaisance to Agricola to go to a relative and sometimes Bagotstown at my sister,” she said, while adding that he had no known illness.
Johnson and 15 others were said to have occupied separate rooms in the old hotel, located at Lot 40-41 Victoria Road, Plaisance, where the fire occurred. The building had been converted into an apartment complex.
Two other houses, including one which was recently renovated, were also destroyed and nearby buildings were scorched.
When Stabroek News visited the scene yesterday, some of the victims were present, while others were said to be at the community centre, where temporary accommodation was provided for them.
The victims were said to have been provided with meals and mattresses with bedsheets.
Several government officials, including Minister of Finance Winston Jordan and Junior Minister of Natural Resources Simona Broomes, also visited the scene yesterday.
Broomes, this newspaper was told, donated toiletries and other items to the victims.
Many of the victims lost everything but some focused on the fact that they still had life. “I lost everything, all my documents and so, yes, but right now I am thankful for life because with God everything is possible,” one victim related.
She said her niece was staying at her apartment with her over the weekend since she had classes at the University of Guyana and she too lost her belongings.
While the origin of the fire was still unknown yesterday, Sunday Stabroek was told that the residents of the street have been experienced electrical issues for some time and there had been other fires.