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Man Dies; 14 Homeless in Caye Caulker Inferno

Man Dies; 14 Homeless in Caye Caulker Inferno
September 27
09:33 2019

Independence Day for residents and tourists on Caye Caulker started off on a somber note when one of its residents was trapped inside a burning building and died shortly after midnight on Saturday, while islanders were at the park watching the fireworks display.

Fire officials told the Reporter on Wednesday that while the cause of the blaze has not yet been determined, they have ruled out that it started from a stove or from electrical faultiness and that the investigation is leading towards a case of possible arson.

The raging inferno was first spotted at a few minutes after midnight at the two-storey building on Avenida Langosta that housed Nando’s Golf Cart Rentals and an apartment complex. The deceased, Elmer Chub, 30, originally from San Jose Village, Orange Walk, was employed by the golf cart rental as a repair/serviceman. He had been socializing between 8 and 9 on Independence Eve night, but when he became too inebriated to walk to the park, decided to retire for the night and went to his apartment to sleep. His charred remains were found on the morning of Independence Day while fire fighters were mopping up the scene.

Chub had been unaccounted for from the time the fire started. Residents of the area told the Reporter that they heard someone screaming for help when the fire was burning, but the fire had grown so huge that no one knew exactly where the cries were coming from and worse, no one could stand the intense heat to venture near the burning building.

Even the landlord, Fidel Magaña, told reporters that he almost died in the fire. He said that it was the smoke that woke him up and that he was choking and disoriented. It was his nephew who went into the burning building and pulled him through a hole just moments before the top caved in.

Altogether 14 persons, including three children were left displaced. They have since taken up temporary residence with relatives, friends and other apartments, supported by the Human Development Department and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), which dispatched a team with emergency packages and butane tanks for those affected.

The fire burned freely for over 20 minutes, casting people in direct danger of burning live electricity wires because contact could not readily be reached from the island to Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) personnel on the mainland to cut off the power supply to that area. By the time that happened, the fire had already engulfed the entire concrete building and was burning the wooden and thatch roofing of an adjacent house. Everything in the apartment complex was destroyed, nothing of which was insured.

Another major problem that severely handicapped the firefighting performance was that once the electricity supply was shut off, the overzealous residents then took over the fire truck that was at the scene and in their quest to put the truck into commission, broke off the levers that controlled its operation, rendering the truck useless. Firemen from Belize City have gone to the island to make the necessary repairs to the truck. Some of the villagers also moved water hoses that were set down to fight the blaze from another angle.

What is notable is that when it became evident that the fire was in the free-burning phase with a dysfunctional fire truck at the scene, the residents – about 75 of them – formed a bucket brigade from the sea to the location and began to pass on buckets of water to help extinguish the blaze. Another fire truck was also dispatched to the scene and those efforts eventually prevailed in successfully combatting the fire.

Newly-installed Fire Chief, Colin Griffith encouraged the Caye Caulker Village Council to take down the names of persons on the island who want to become volunteer fire fighters so that whenever there is a fire on the island they can offer meaningful assistance and operate the equipment properly instead of damaging it.

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