A 75-year-old grandmother was rescued from a mid-morning fire that occurred on Southside Belize City today. That fire was one of two that resulted in agonizing losses for at least four families whose residences and belongings were either totally destroyed, or underwent extensive fire and water damage, all because of youngsters who were reportedly playing with lighters in both instances.
When we arrived on the scene of the blistering inferno on Berkeley Street, we observed neighbors and area residents in a state of panic and desperation, as they frantically tried to keep the hungry flames at bay until firefighters arrived on the scene.
As the fire ravaged the 2-storey wooden/concrete structure, generating intense heat and emitting thick, dark gray smoke, the firemen had to utilize breathing apparatuses, and the conditions hindered the efforts of the civilians who were assisting in the firefight.
Orin Smith, Station Officer at the National Fire Service, later told us how firefighters sprang into action when they received the call about the fire on Berkeley Street, which destroyed two homes and damaged another.
He said, “This morning, at 10:09 a.m., the National Fire Service had received and responded to the call of a structural fire at #25 Berkley Street, Belize City. On arrival on that scene, the upper flat of a 2-storey wooden and concrete structure was seen engulfed in flames. The National Fire Service extinguished that fire. As a result of that fire, the rear or north section of the upper flat of a wooden 2-storey structure on the same premises with a #23 Berkeley Street address had suffered fire damage. A 14×14 wooden structure at a #70 Plues Street address was also destroyed by fire. Investigations revealed that that fire had occurred as a result of a minor playing with a lighter.”
Shortly after the fire was put out, Amandala spoke to Jenise Ramirez, the mother of the child who supposedly caused the fire, and she told us that she left her two children in the care of a babysitter who had gone and left them unattended.
She said, “I went to work this morning and I left my kids with their babysitter and asked her to keep an eye on them because I work from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. My son told me that the babysitter went home to bathe and left them in the house, and I had told her that if me, my brother or my roommate is not at home, she has access to the whole house to bathe, change clothes and do whatever she has to do until 5:00 in the evening. But so far, they told me that she has been going out and leaving the kids there home alone.”
Ramirez then recounted what her 4-year-old son told her regarding how the blaze started.
She related, “My son told me what happened. He said, ‘Mommy, Jeremy lit a paper and he was trying to out it, but it caught the mattress in the bedroom.’ He then said, ‘Mommy, I got frightened and I ran downstairs and told the lady [that lives downstairs], ‘Fire, fire!’ I don’t know who took them out [out of the burning house], but someone called me at my work and told me that there is a fire at my house, so my work vehicle brought me down [to Belize City] to see.”
The sobbing mother told us that despite what has occurred, she still loves her children; however, she is now appealing for the public’s assistance because she lost everything, some of which were just bought recently.
“I am a single mother, and I work hard to take care of my kids – it doesn’t matter what my kids did, I love them; that’s why I got an adult to watch them every day. I just bought back a lot of things for my house, and now I have lost everything that I own, so I am asking for the public’s assistance to help me right now – anything will work, either financially, or with any of the material stuff that I lost, but I thank God that my kids are safe and okay, and didn’t get hurt in the fire.”
Ramirez has a 6-year old and a 4-year old son, and it was the 6-year old who allegedly started the fire.
Anyone who would like to assist Jenise Ramirez and her family can contact her at 601-9339.
Amandala also managed to talk to a septuagenarian who also lost all her belongings, but could have also lost her life in the inferno if it wasn’t for a brave rescuer.
Merlene Andrews, 75, told us that she was trying to extinguish the flames, but nearly got trapped in the burning house.
She said, “If my friend didn’t pull me out, I would have been a dead woman. I was in my chair sitting down along with another young lady when the babysitter said that she was going to bathe and come back. She said that she left them [the two boys] writing; I don’t think that she had even gotten to the lane when the younger one came and said how Jeremy lit a fire. Honestly, I jumped out of my chair and tried to go up the step, but there was too much smoke, so I went to my neighbor and I shouted ‘Fire!’ We then got some water, and we were trying to out the fire until she [the neighbor] said, ‘Come out’, and that’s when I saw a policeman who was also telling me to come out of the house. He asked me if anyone else was in the house, but I told him that the 2 children had already come out. By that time, the house was already under fire, so I couldn’t even try to save anything except my center table that I hauled through the door.”
The grandmother mentioned that both of her neighbor’s children have behavioral problems, and had a habit of playing with fire.
“Earlier this morning, the 2 children were in the yard playing, so I told them, “Unu betta no go light no fire up deh ‘cause I wa buss unu r@$$, so I gone and told them to pick up the leaves in the yard, not knowing that they would have done this, but they [the children] are really unruly”, she emphasized.
Coincidentally, another fire had also occurred in a different area of Southside Belize City this morning, and interestingly, fire officials determined that children were also responsible for that blaze, although it wasn’t as ravenous as the Berkeley Street fire.
Orin Smith said, “This morning, the National Fire Service responded to the call about a structural fire at #2 Conch Shell Bay area in Belize City. On arrival on scene, smoke was seen coming from a small wooden structure, approximately 14×14 feet. The fire had been extinguished by occupants of the home.
“The information revealed was that a minor was playing with a lighter and ignited a mattress in the home.”
Smith told us that two occupants living at the structure were affected by the fire at Conch Shell Bay, while the fire on Berkeley Street left two families destitute, including 3 adults and 2 minors, who had lived at the upper flat of the structure at #25 Berkeley Street.
The occupants of #23 Berkeley Street which was damaged by fire were 11 individuals.
While Smith commended the work of the firefighters, he acknowledged that the fire service did have some difficulty making their way to the scene because of several street works projects being conducted within that area.
Smith stressed that this is the fourth structural fire in this month that has been the result of minors playing with lighters, and as a result, the Station Officer also took the opportunity to warn parents again about the hazards of having children unattended or playing with fire.
“If tools such as matches, lighters and candles are left in easy reach of children, they will play with these things because they don’t understand the danger. The elders, parents and guardians, it is their responsibility to educate the children on the dangers of playing with these tools,” he said.
On July 9, fire destroyed the home of Eloise Hyde in Hattieville after her 8-year-old grandson was playing with a lighter and lit a curtain which then caught fire and set the entire house ablaze. At the time of the fire, there were about 15 persons occupying the building, and its contents were valued at approximately $50,000.
Last Friday, July 21, a fire on Prince Street – which is about a block away from today’s Berkeley Street fire – left three families, including four children, homeless.
In that case, fire officials determined that it was also an incident where a minor is believed to have been playing with a source of fire which got out of control.