Headline — 16 June 2018 — by Courtney Menzies
Tragedy: 4 persons perish in house fire in San Pedro

San Pedro’s fire trucks are too small, said Fire Department official

SAN PEDRO, Ambergris Caye, Thurs. June 14, 2018– Two houses in the Escalante subdivision in San Pedro Town were gutted by a fire that occurred around 2:45 on Tuesday morning. The fire also claimed the lives of four persons, three of whom were children.

According to Orin Smith, Station Manager of the Fire Department, the department’s branch in San Pedro received a call around 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 45 minutes after the fire had started. By the time they arrived at the scene of the fire, the two homes were already engulfed in flames, which, due to the severe winds, had spread to a third building.

A family of 4 and a family of 2 living in the two apartments in the concrete lower flat of the two-storey house were able to escape, but the wooden steps leading up to the upper flat caught fire, trapping Allan Nunez, a 14-year-old first form student at San Pedro High School; his mother, 36-year-old Clarita Bacab; his sister, 6-year-old Joycelyn Cal, and his cousin, 15-year-old Sherly Bacab, who all perished in the fire. Sherly had recently begun staying with her aunt and uncle.

Allan’s father, David Nunez, and 16-year-old brother, Samir Nunez, were able to escape the fire by breaking a window and jumping out from the second floor. They sustained severe burns and various injuries, including smoke inhalation, and were airlifted to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. David is said to have 3rd degree burns, and is in a critical condition, while Samir sustained burns on the palms of his hand.

At the police press brief held today, Inspector Wilfred Ferrufino said that the police were told that a golf cart that was left charging near the house caught fire, and the battery exploded. The fire then spread to the stairs of the house and then to the remainder of the building.

The family living in the other home that was destroyed was unharmed, but lost all their belongings.

KREM TV spoke with a woman, living with her common-law-husband and two children in one of the apartments in the lower flat of the two-storey house. Tracy Cruz told KREM that when she opened the door to the kitchen, she could see smoke, and looking through the window, she saw orange flames. The verandah and the stairs were completely engulfed in flames.

Not knowing how she could escape, she knocked on the wall to ask for assistance from the couple in the other apartment, but they had already evacuated.

Cruz said that the electricity went off, and thus, she could not contact her common-law husband, who was not at home, via Facebook Messenger, because the Wi-Fi was off.

Knowing that she had to save her children, Cruz led them to the bathroom, where she managed to break the window, which had wooden louvers, and escaped with her children, unharmed.

Cruz also told KREM that she believes that the Fire Department responded too late, and she was concerned when the truck ran out of water and had to leave.

She had also said that she wasn’t sure to where she and her family would relocate.

Also of concern, however, are statements by witnesses that the two fire trucks dispensed the water they had, and then left to get more. The people at the scene of the fire then started a bucket brigade, using water from a nearby well to stop the spread of the fire.

In response to this, Smith explained that the two fire trucks in San Pedro are much smaller than the ones in Belize City. He went on to say, “the combination of both trucks, I think, has approximately 700 gallons. If you get on the scene and you use three lengths of hose, 70 millimeter by 100-foot length, it takes 30 gallons to full one length of hose. That’s ninety gallons. If you are using two branch pipes that discharge 100 gallons per minute, that’s 290 gallons per minute being discharged.

“Out of 700 gallons, you have at least just over two and a half minutes of firefighting before the trucks had to leave the scene to find water, and that is what occurred.”

Smith also said that the sea was still quite a distance away, so the trucks had to utilize a swimming pool. He mentioned that this is one of the worst fires he had seen, and that new structures being built should have at least two exits, and two flights of stairs. He also advised Belizeans to invest in smoke detectors for their homes.

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