This week is Fire Safety Week. Just this morning personnel from the Belize Fire Department were guests on the Wake up Belize Morning Vibes (WUB), educating the public about how to safeguard their homes from fire with the use of a fire extinguisher, among other safety tips that were suggested. But this afternoon a fire broke out in the highly congested Prince Street area of Belize City, and three houses were completely destroyed. One of the victims, sports reporter Gilroy “Press” Cadogan told local television stations that the firemen took 35 to 40 minutes to reach the fire scene.
Sometime between 3:35 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., a fire quickly ignited at #50 Prince Street, a place where Tilde Zelaya, 50, and five other relatives called home. Amandala was at the scene shortly after the fire began. We spoke with the families affected.
We learned that shortly after the fire began at house #50, it destroyed almost everything for Tilde Zelaya, 50, and five other members. It did the same to the home of Arilee Burgess, 38, who occupied the lower flat of house #50.
The fire then shifted its flames to house #44, the home of Everald Neal, age 42. He lost everything.
The fire then moved to house #52. Occupying this house at the time was Helga Barrow, 48.
She managed to save some clothing. All other items were destroyed.
Because the fire was out of control, it spread to house #48 as well, occupied by Crisalee Alvarez, 25, and her common-law-husband, Feliciano Barkley, 27, and their three children, ages, eight, four and one.
What caused the fire? The Fire Department say they have still have not been able to determine the cause.
Ted Smith, Assistant Fire Chief, who commented on the present situation this evening, said that he is still conducting an assessment of ground zero, and their investigation has not yet begun.
According to Smith, they received the call of a fire on Prince Street at about 3:45 p.m., and quickly responded, but there was a delay of about 5-10 minutes. Mr. Smith did not give a reason for the delay.
Neighbors who were in the area when the fire began, said that the fire was caused by cooking by the tenants of house #50, who left their pot unattended and were not aware of a fire inside their home.
One neighbor we spoke with, Errol Tillett, 24, the first person to notice that there was a fire, told the newspaper that sometime around 3:30 he was standing downstairs of house #50, where his mother, Arilee Burgess lives, and when he looked at the upper flat, he saw smoke.
Tillett said he ran up the stairs of the house and into the kitchen, where he saw the fire on the wall of the neighbor’s kitchen area. No one was in the kitchen area at the time, so he quickly ran into the bathroom area, turned on a pipe that was there and began to throw water on the wall.
He then yelled out, “Fire, fire.” This was when the residents of the home, who were on their verandah, came running into the house, commented Tillett.
The other neighbors were informed of the situation and the Fire Department was called.
The fire moved so fast, said one neighbor, that they lost most of their household effects.
We spoke with fire victim, Everald Neal, 42. He said that he was at work when he got the news. By the time he got there, his home was already burnt down. He lived at house #44 with his common-law-wife and four children.
Gilroy “Press” Cadogan, 45, who lived at the lower flat of house #52, was luckier than the other four families, whose homes were totally destroyed.
He told us he was at Pound Yard Bridge selling his “rum popo” when he saw the smoke and began speeding home. As he got closer to the area, he began asking questions and noticed that the smoke was coming from the canal area near his home.
He got there in time to run in and begin grabbing items from inside the house. He managed to save almost everything, but got significant water damage to many items, said Cadogan.
In the end, four houses burned, leaving over twenty residents homeless. Two other houses got scorched, said the Fire Department.
Many valuable items were lost. Many families were seen crying about their losses, while they were being comforted by relatives and friends.
There was one serious injury when a fire truck ran over the left foot of a young man. A traffic personnel who saw the mishap occur told the newspaper that the young man was riding a bicycle against the flow of traffic. The cyclist came over the bridge and was going contrary to traffic heading into East Canal, when the fire truck bumper hit him and he fell off his bike. The fire truck then ran over his left foot. He was immediately rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital for treatment. We understand that his foot was broken and that it may have to be amputated.
It was a chaotic situation in a congested area. One person who fell victim to theft while assisting the fire victims was sculptor and media personality, Steven Okeke. He told us that he passed the area and saw that they needed help. But sometime during the time he was helping, someone grabbed his cell phone, number 625-1070, from inside the case that was on the left side of his waist.
Street sources are saying that the Fire Department arrived late because they were occupied with events connected with Fire Safety Week. We await an official statement.