Apr 16, 2016 News
Fire Prevention Officer Andrew Holder has concluded that the fires in the Camp Street Prisons were caused by prisoners setting a mattress or mattresses alight within the prison walls.
Holder is a Station Officer of the Guyana Fire Service (GFS). He has been attached to the GFS for some 18 years.
The Fire Prevention Officer formed the conclusion after he examined the burned area and interviewed inmates who survived the horrific episode.
The fire which occurred at the Georgetown Prison on March 3, last, claimed the lives of 17 prisoners. An 18th prisoner died of a heart attack.
A Commission of Inquiry (COI) has since been established into the incident, to investigate, examine and report on the causes, circumstances and conditions that led to the disturbances on the morning of March 3, 2016, that resulted in the death of prisoners and any other subsequent disturbances at the Camp Street Prisons; the nature of all injuries sustained by the Prisoners, and any other subsequent disturbances.
Justice James Patterson, Merle Mendonca, and retired Director of Prisons, Dale Erskine have been appointed as Commissioners to oversee the work.
Before revealing his findings to the Commission yesterday, the Fire prevention officer supplied the Commission with the details of his training and qualification. Holder told the tribunal that he completed fire investigation training in Trinidad and Tobago, Japan and the United Kingdom in addition to acquiring some local training and qualification in the field of his work.
The investigator said that based on his examination, fire which was as a result of prisoners setting fire to mattresses within the prison, developed a flow pattern and consumed nearby combustibles in its path, giving rise to flash over.
He said in his expert opinion that the flash over, the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area, was responsible for the damage to the prison and loss of life.
“When a flash over happens everything in the room catches fire, everything… beds, clothing timber, even human beings,” Holder said.
According to the witness it follows a rise in temperature during indoor fires degrees between 500 degrees and 600 degrees.
He said that the fire would continue to burn until all flammable material in the room would have been consumed by the fire. Holder noted, too, that the post mortem observation of the bodies of the burnt prisoners, can determine if they perished as a result of the flash over or other injuries.
The witness noted that approximately 80 percent of the structure had been engulfed in flames. The fire, he said, had significantly compromised the integrity of the structure leaving cracks in the walls and tons of debris.
The witness explained that in such cases, clothing and mattresses are the first to catch fire but could not give a time frame for when the fire started to when the flash over could have occurred.
The Investigator also denied that tear gas had been a contributory factor to the fire. He said that he recovered no canisters or physical evidence to suggest such.
The witness told the Commission that when he arrived at Camp Street Prison on the day of the fire, he had waited for the blaze at the Capital A to be contained before entering the compound.
The fire officer claimed that he felt that the officers were in grave danger, thus, he waited for the compound to return to some state of normalcy. Holder subsequently explained that the officers were in immediate danger of being physically attacked.
He likened the March 3 episode to a war zone. “On that day I thought that anybody in a uniform like mine was considered an enemy based on the expletives and anger vented by inmates as we entered the prison yard,” Holder stated.
His investigations commenced after the fire was suppressed.
Holder recalled that he observed at least two separate points where a fire was actually lit. The scene following the firefighting was full of burnt bodies. There was massive destruction of the structure.
During his interview with the survivors from the said Capital cell block, the fireman told the panel that he learnt that matches were used to light the fire.
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