SAN PEDRO, Belize District, Mon. June 27, 2016–Eighty-eight persons were left homeless after a four-hour inferno gutted eleven large buildings on Pescador Drive, one of the main arteries in San Pedro.
The devastating blaze stripped 27 families of their homes. According to official reports, 11 buildings were completely destroyed and 6 were partially damaged. Eight businesses were completely destroyed, and six were partially destroyed. Of the 27 families (consisting of 88 individuals) that were affected, 21 families, comprising 68 of the 88 persons affected by the fire, lost everything.
While no fatalities were reported, Amandala was told that without the prompt response of the National Fire Services, the Police Department and the approximately one hundred locals who formed a 50-foot bucket brigade to combat the flames, the destruction caused by the fire could have been much worse. However, Assistant Superintendent of San Pedro, Henry Jemmott, had a different view.
He told Amandala that many of those individuals who had offered immediate assistance were under the influence of alcohol and in fact, served as major impediments to fighting the fire.
“I believe the police and the Fire [Department] were adequate enough. We were organizing. What was a part of the problem is there was a lot of people who were under the influence and were not causing us to carry our job efficiently and effectively. After we had moved away a large amount of the crowd who were under the influence, we managed to set up our barricade. We managed to set up where we were going to fight the fire and contain it to one block,” said Jemmott.
According to police, at around 12:45 a.m., they were called to a burning 2-storey wooden apartment behind El Durado’s Store which then belched flames onto Lino’s Meat Shop, and then engulfed other apartments and residential buildings in near proximity.
While these victims try to put the pieces of their lives back together, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), the San Pedro Town Council and other non-governmental organizations have offered to provide much-needed assistance.
Minister Edmund Castro, who today received a firsthand report of the tragedy, told Amandala, “As NEMO, we are preparing a barge to send to the island this evening, that will be assisting the fire victims with mattresses, tabletop stoves, food and other emergency packages. We will be doing our best, as the Government of Belize through NEMO, to assist those victims until they could get on their feet.”
The mayor of San Pedro, Daniel Guerrero, told us that while he is saddened by the loss of property that affected one of his councilors and one of his brothers, as well as the losses suffered by other victims, he viewed the community’s response as, “something beautiful.”
He told us that he hadn’t slept yet, and that he had activated volunteers and other agencies to work on shifts to provide three days of assistance to the victims.
Carolina Kumul, the secretary of the San Pedro Lion’s Club, informed us, “We have 27 families that were affected, so we, as a non-profitable organization, are here with our gates opened, receiving donations from the public — clothes, food, any cash donations to help the fire victims.”
Ted Smith, the National Fire Chief, who conceded that they only had one functioning fire truck, as the other was out of service, praised the response of the firefighters and the support of the community. He said that investigations into the terrible fire were pending.
In regards to those investigations, however, Assistant Superintendent Henry Jemmott said, “At this time, both firefighters and police are engaged in separate investigation, but at some time we will assist one another. We are doing a criminal investigation pointing to arson. At this time, we have one person detained and we have recorded two statements. We are just wanting for the power to come on so our officers can [look at] some of the cameras in the area to assist with the investigations.”
When Amandala asked why an individual would want to see eleven buildings burned down, Jemmott responded, “It’s a very difficult question and I believe the intention wasn’t that, but because of the demographics of San Pedro and the buildings that were involved, it clearly showed that with just by lighting anything within that area, it would have spread.”