-tenant reportedly left appliance running
-building uninsured for almost a year as tenants seek compensation
-nearby residents donate food, clothing to victims
A raging fire which gutted and completely destroyed the ‘University Off Campus Lodge’- an
apartment building located at Lot 46 Third Street, Cummings Lodge, East Coast Demerara-might have been prevented had the landlord acted on complaints made by tenants of the building having electrical problems.
This was disclosed to Kaieteur News yesterday, as tenants, mostly students at the University of Guyana (UG), Texila American University (TAU), Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) and young working adults salvaged through the debris.
The fire began at around 20:30hrs Friday night. Up to midnight firefighters were still trying to extinguish the embers.
Tenants pointed out that this disaster could have been avoided if the landlord, Mr. Tarachand Balgobin, Director of Project Cycle Management Division, Ministry of Finance, had listened to their numerous complaints of the building, having electrical problems. It had about 25 apartments- single and double-room-and housed over 35 persons.
Based on reports, there have been several complaints to the landlord by the residents of electrical wires sparking in the apartment complex, more specifically in Room 2. Efforts to secure an audience with the tenant of Room 2 proved futile.
A Senior Fire Service official said that the fire is suspected to be of electrical nature. The official stated that up to yesterday, firemen were still at the scene conducting investigations.
The blaze began in Room 2 on the lower flat of the wooden and concrete two-storey building.
According to a tenant, electrical wires began sparking in the room, which was built mostly of wood. The tenant said that he and other persons who occupied the building were alerted to the fire after a burning scent began emanating from the room.
He said that they were forced to kick down the door to the room because no one was home at the time.
However, he added that by the time they were able to gain access to the room the fire
was already “out of control”. He said that other occupants of the building were alerted and quickly ran to safety as the fire service was summoned.
According to tenants, the building has no fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.
“If we had a fire extinguisher we might have been able to put out this fire before it spread.
We didn’t expect this fire to spread so fast. Everybody come with water and start throwing. But after the fire got out of control we call the fire people,” a tenant said.
The tenant continued, “Them firemen took a while to come but when they come they had to wait on GPL to come and disconnect power from the building. All of that make this place burn down so…that delay.”
However, Mr. Balgobin has refuted reports of tenants complaining to him about the premises having electrical problems. Mr. Balgobin said that each apartment has its own electrical circuit and pre-paid metre.
“Is not like there is an overload. Every room has its own electrical circuit. Nobody complained to me about any electrical problems here.”
The landlord assumed that the tenant in Room 2 might have left an electrical appliance on and went about his business, causing the appliance to overheat and resulting in the fire.
When firefighters arrived at the scene they were left helpless as they waited for officials from the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) to disconnect power in the area.
Some residents opined that the structure could have been saved had the fire tenders arrived with adequate water. However, one firefighter was overheard saying that the crew was unable to immediately tackle the blaze due to the presence of live wires.
A senior fire service official, who was at the scene, said that the firefighters managed to ‘contain’ the blaze to one building. He said that two pumps broke down while the crew was attempting to access water from a muddy canal.
Another tenant said that he was returning from a nearby supermarket when he saw the building on fire. The man, who is an Indian national, said that he had been renting an apartment there for six years. A tenant who lived in a similar structure next door said she was sleeping when she heard an explosion. On looking outside, she saw the building engulfed in flames.
In one instant, a young man found a burnt Republic of Guyana passport and shouted, “This is the only thing I found.”
A resident said that his car would have been destroyed by the blaze if he was not at home.
Shockingly, Mr. Balgobin revealed that the building worth approximately $50M has been uninsured for almost a year. He said that he was overseas and did not get the chance to renew the insurance for the building with Guyana and Trinidad Mutual (GTM) Life Insurance.
According to the landlord, he lost track of renewing insurance for the building after an agent from GTM left the job. “We never followed up with another agent,” Mr. Balgobin added.
But his tenants are not buying this since they have been hearing reports to the contrary and are seeking compensation for their losses.
He stated that he will hold discussions with his tenants on the way forward. The landlord said he will give back tenants their security deposit. “Rent deposit cannot cover this loss. Some of them owe me two and three months’ rent.
“I don’t know how to help them…I cannot recover from this loss. Some of the apartments were semi-furnished by me.”
Balgobin disclosed that he has been operating the business for almost 10 years and has other buildings of a similar nature in the area. He disclosed that the burnt property is owned by his daughter, Pritima Balgobin, who resides overseas.
Meanwhile, residents who live in a similar manner next door donated food stuff and clothing to the victims, who were still at the scene contemplating their next move.
Some of them were overheard inquiring about other apartments to rent. There were no reports of anyone being injured. However, buildings in close proximity were damaged.
Persons desirous of rendering assistance are being asked to contact (592) 644-6757.
Last Thursday, days after she rented a building at Fifth Field, Cummings Lodge, East Coast Demerara, 23-year-old trainee teacher, Maria Barjoan, returned home to find her abode up in flames.
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