May 25, 2011 News
Two small children left at home alone perished at around 06:15 hrs yesterday in a fire that destroyed their family’s shack at Dazzell Housing Scheme, East Coast Demerara. Julius De Clou, six, and his four-year-old brother, Josiah, were reportedly asleep when the blaze – which is believed to have been caused by a lighted kerosene stove – ravaged the structure.
The children’s mother, 27-year-old Ashona Letlow, had left to go to a nearby house to iron a school shirt. The woman had taken her one-year-old son with her. By the time she returned, the fire had already consumed the one-bedroom building, located on the reserve between the communities of Bare Roots and Dazzell Housing Scheme.
Ms. Letlow confirmed that she had used her kerosene stove shortly before the fire but told Kaieteur News that she put it out before leaving home.
But this newspaper was told that firefighters who examined the scene are certain that the stove caused the blaze. According to a source, the fire started in an area near the stove. Firefighters reportedly observed that the wicks were up, indicating that the stove was still on when the fire started.
“With one lighted wick, there’s enough vapour to cause a fire,” a source said.
Kaieteur News understands that Ms. Letlow told firefighters that she had got up to prepare meals, had put out the stove, and then gone to her mother’s house to do some ironing. She reportedly said that the six-year-old was awake at the time.
Investigators do not believe that any of the children tampered with the stove.
Police took Ms. Letlow in for questioning after the children’s remains were retrieved from the gutted building.
The deaths plunged residents of the two small East Coast Demerara communities into a state of shock.
Many residents delayed going to work to either get a glimpse of the children’s remains or to offer some sort of comfort to their mother.
Struggling to remain calm, Ms. Letlow told Kaieteur News that she had gotten up early yesterday morning and prepared her husband’s lunch for him to take with him to the La Bonne Intention (LBI) sugar estate where he is employed as a cane harvester.
According to Letlow, Julius, the older of the two boys, had also woken up and after seeing his father Vivian De Clou off to work around 04:30 hours, the child went back into bed with his little brother.
Realizing that daylight had already come upon her, Letlow took her one-year-old baby with her over to her mother’s house to press one of Julius’ school shirts. She claimed that she had already extinguished the stove and was certain that nothing else was alight in the house when she left.
But as she was returning home, alarm bells rang out in her head when she saw smoke coming from her little shack, and there was no sign of her two children.
“I see de smoke and I drop me baby and start holler out fuh me nephew. By time dem neighbours come out, de whole house done catch,” the grief-stricken mother recalled.
It was one of the neighbours who picked up Letlow’s baby, but the other residents could do nothing to save her two other sons from the inferno.
Her sister, Tamika, who lives nearby, also could not control her emotions at the scene.
However she recalled that after seeing the smoke, she rushed to the scene and frantically enquired from the children’s mother where they were.
“When she tell me dey in de house, I run and fall down,” Tamika told this newspaper. She said that neighbours who had rushed to the burning shack, heard screams coming from within, but by the time the smoke cleared, the children had already perished.
“By the time dem done throw water, they see de two boys done dead.”
The children’s father got the grim news while he was still at work.
“At around seven o’clock, the wife of one of the cane harvesters called to say my house burn down and my children dead.” Mr. Letlow said he was too devastated to go to the scene until the bodies had been removed. “I couldn’t face it (so) I went to my family in Georgetown.”
According to Letlow, he later spoke with his reputed wife, who explained that she had left the house to iron some clothing. The father revealed that another son, aged three, died from gastroenteritis in 2005.
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