By Rehanna Ramsay
Two Chinese nationals perished early yesterday morning after they were trapped in a raging fire, which virtually obliterated seven stores on one of the busiest commercial blocks at Vreed –en –Hoop, West Coast Demerara (WCD).
The names of the victims were not released, but the fire, suspected to have been of electrical origin, is said to have started in the Wishful Supermarket they occupied. It was located at Lot 34, Section B Vreed-en-Hoop WCD, in the centre of the commercial block that the inferno virtually destroyed.
The inferno, which spread to buildings located to east and west of the supermarket also obliterated a Chinese restaurant, a CD and gift shop, two clothing boutiques, bookstore and a cellphone dealership known as Mobile Guru.
Two other occupants were lucky enough to make it out alive. They were 83-year-old Fazial Raymond, the owner of one of the buildings, and a Chinese national.
Mr. Raymond assessed the damage to the merchandise to be in the millions. He told Kaieteur News that his building was not insured.
Jagash Mangal lives in a house directly opposite the Vreed-en-Hoop commercial hub
He told Kaieteur News that he was alerted about the fire at around 01:30 hrs.
“I wake up because I could hear my dogs barking non- stop. So I check my cameras to see what happened but I didn’t see anything until I look outside and see the thick, thick smoke.”
Mangal said that he immediately called the police, Fire Service, and Guyana Power and Light (GPL).
“I dial 911 first but the number keep ringing out so I called La Grange Station … Then I call Fire Service and GPL because I was concerned that the fire might catch the electrical wires,” he added.
According to Mangal, the blaze nonetheless raged swiftly through the buildings, consuming the businesses in its path.
Some residents said that they woke up around 01:45 hrs to the sound of sirens.
Others were alerted to the fire after thick smoke started to engulf the neighbourhood.
“When I woke up and I see the fire, I got so scared that I grabbed up all my important documents and woke my children and we ran out the house,” a woman, who occupies a house directly behind by the business district recalled.
She said that the fire fighters made valiant efforts, but were overwhelmed.
Another witness noted that the blaze “started out small”, but by the time the fire truck turned up, it was already out of control.
“It started small but by the time fire service come, it done big, big. The firemen fighting this fire since like around one o’ clock in the morning and until day clean, then they get it under control.”
When Kaieteur News visited the scene, around 8:43 hrs, the fire fighters were still trying to put out the debris; even until 16:30 hours fire service workers remained on the scene.
Persons were seen stopping to observe and assess the damage. The affected business owners also lined the streets while counting their losses.
Kaieteur News understands the mobile outlet was operated by Deopaul Samaroo of Parika and Rajaram Suckhna of Meten-Meer-Zorg, WCD.
Robin, (only name given) the owner of Robin’s bookstore told Kaieteur News that his losses could run up to $10 million. The businessman rented a space and sold textbooks among other stationery items for a living.
The owner of one of the clothing stores (no name given) expressed her discontent over the response of the fire service.
She said that fire fighters from both La Grange and Leonora responded to the calls, yet not one item could be saved.
“First thing, they turn up at the scene of the fire without enough water. They had to call for back up. They stopped us from saving whatever little we could have saved so now everything is gone,” the woman lamented.
However, Fire Chief Marlon Gentle told the Kaieteur News, fire fighters had a number of variables to consider when putting out the blaze at the highly congested and combustible area.
“Water alone could not out that blaze in a congested space with several combustible elements like gas cylinders to consider. These things are highly flammable.”
According to Gentle, in addition to the fire, there were two explosions at the commercial hub.
“So the chief thing for us is ensuring that safety of the fire fighters and the lives and properties of persons nearby.”
Gentle noted that the service, which included a back up crew from the Georgetown Station worked to ensure that the Regional Democratic Council‘s building which is located along the stretch suffered minimal damage.
He said it would be important to note that a number of fire hazards were identified at the Vreed- en- Hoop business stretch.
“For one, the place is congested and then although the buildings have certain features like an emergency exit, they were blocked up by security shutters, because these people consider the persons breaking in to their business more dangerous than a fire. So when you take these chances, there are consequences,” he said.
The Fire Chief noted that this is the third major fire in the Vreed-en-Hoop area but the hazards remain the same.
“Persons would have been warned of the hazards and risks of fire, but they continue to operate the same way.
While investigations into the matter are still ongoing, the Fire Chief said that a defective freezer in the supermarket would have been most likely to cause the fire.
“We were told a freezer in the supermarket was giving problems since the day before. So it is likely that is what started the fire but it is still too early to make a determination of what exactly took place,” Gentle added.
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