Counting the Cost of “Worst” Majestic Alley Fire
On Friday evening, a fire destroyed four buildings in the congested Majestic Alley including the signature “long barracks,” which has eight units and houses as many as thirty people. When all the numbers were tallied, eighteen families were left homeless and majority lost everything they owned. While a number of issues contributed to the fast spread of the fire, there was also criticism of the Fire Service by residents claiming a delay in putting out the fire as a result of malfunctioning equipment. Today, a total of fifty persons remain in shelters and have been provided with meals, clothing and other basic necessities until through the end of this week. News Five’s Andrea Polanco has the story.
Just before four-thirty on Friday evening, a fire broke out from a house that once stood here in Majestic Alley where now only a pile of rubble remains. It is said that the fire started from a wooden and concrete house and the strong winds carried embers over to the other houses that are in proximity and it extended to the eight unit barracks – almost everyone lost everything. It took the fire service almost an hour to contain the blaze – but by that time the four structures were already destroyed – including the barracks. A few of the residents were able to save only a few items – all the others – some fifty one or so persons – a total of eighteen families- were left without roof over their head – these numbers include children and elderly – including persons who are sick/ailing. One of the residents who lived in the Barracks is fifty-three year old Wayne Jones. He was not at home when the fire started. He arrived to see his apartment at the Barracks completely under fire.
Wayne Jones, Fire Victim
“Well, I end up the lose everything weh inna mi house, ma’am. I nuh got nothing. Everything. Completely. I nuh got nothing. One suit a clothes I have on. Only that I have.”
“You lived alone or with family members?”
“Me and mi uncle.”
“In which one of the houses you lived?”
“Number four, Pinks Alley; downstairs.”
“In the barracks?”
“Now, what do you know about this fire? Weh time it start? How it start? Weh you know so far?”
Wayne Jones, Fire Victim
“Well, I mi gone out and when I di come I see wah big black flames so I say I di hurry come because I see that it look like it’s back of the station. And when I reach ya dah fire and the thing deh under fire and can’t help to save nothing.”
“Yo had no idea that dah yo place di burn down?”
“No. I had no idea.”
Most of the residents were not at home when the fire started – like Leroy Grandmaster Young. He born and grew up in this house – but on Friday evening the fire wiped out his family home and at least thirty years of his life’s works –– aside from the furniture and other personal belongings. He was left with a single certificate that he received for his contributions to the arts. The man of many words was speechless when he watched his home go up in flames.
Leroy Grandmaster Young, Fire Victim
“I dah wah person ah lotta words, right? But when I get the news and I buss through yah all I could ah mi do dah sit down by dah lamp post. Dah nuh only mi whole life, but mi ma, mi pa, weh sacrifice fi build dis from the ground gone up in flames. Just the watch that, like, I see wah whole chapter ah my life gone. Yes, dah like mi whole life story gone in deh, material wise, but weh I got up yah, no Y2K, virus, bug nor fire could erase. It sad for mek you deh inna situation like this fi mek people realize dis dah the condition fi mek deh one inna high powers recognize dis dah the condition.”
“You mi live alone down yah or yuh had family members?”
Leroy Grandmaster Young
“I had family members. My bredda and ih daughter live downstairs. Upstairs my son and my daughter in law and three grand kids. I had it part of cause you know I want mi privacy and I was on the back side.”
“And all unu loss everything?”
Leroy Grandmaster Young
On Friday night, most of the persons affected were relocated to the St Mary’s Hall as a shelter – over the weekend they were moved to another secure location. CEMO coordinated for the fire victims to receive bedding and rations though NEMO. On Saturday, several agencies including the Human Development and Red Cross, along with CEMO, met to discuss the way forward and area assisting the families. As a part of that meeting, the team conducted structural assessment of the damage in Majestic Alley and activated a cleanup of the area.
Philip Willoughby, CEMO
“What is of tantamount importance right now is to do a walk through, an immediate walk through. If the structures aren’t sound and safe, we don’t want any of the victims who are affected to go back into those structures if it is not sound and safe. And if it is not sound and safe, we expressed that to them, that it of grave concern to us for them not to occupy to create any further events or eventualities.”
Joining Saturday’s walk through was area representative Said Musa. On Friday evening Musa was in Belmopan when he heard that the well-known Majestic Alley was on fire – an area he has served in for decades – where he has seen two fires previously – this is the worst of the three. He says he is committed to helping his people, but will need the support of Central Government to do so.
Said Musa, Area Rep., Fort George
“As you know we were in Belmopan at the Budget Debate. We got the report a little after four o’clock that Majestic Alley is on fire which was very shocking news, nuh. Of course, I had to leave and I came down as early as I could. It is a real disaster. This entire apartment building which has eight units – housing eight families – got burnt out completely.”
“These people are not only your constituents, but you can say friends, because they have known you for so long?”
“Oh, yes. I grew up with these people, man, kinda thing, nuh? From my early days in politics coming right through and it is common knowledge that they are my strong supporters in this constituency and so obviously I have to be fully committed to help them.”
“And they will also be looking to you?”
“And they will be looking to me, yes. I have to be concerned to ensure that every single one of these constituents get assistance. Of course, as the representative I cannot do it myself and I will have to lean on the national government, NEMO, in particular, and if necessary I will speak to the Minister of Housing, Mister Finnegan, as well as the Prime Minister because these are forty-six minimum people affected with this fire – a lot of victims.”
“Now, from what we have heard – well, you have been the long time area representative – and what we heard is that this is not the first fire that has affected Majestic Alley?”
“Right. This is about the third big fire in Majestic Alley.”
“Is this the worst of what you’ve seen?”
Yes. This is the worst. We had back in the 80’s a bad one. Since then we had one in between, as well. But this one is just about the worst, yes.”
Four structures were destroyed – but why so many? There are a number of factors to consider – the buildings are located in proximity of each of other – a point that questions the planning of this area. The wind, it is believed, also contributed, because the embers were blown into the neighboring yards – and then there was an issue with what appeared to be a delay with the water dousing the fire – something cited as a mechanical issue on the part of the fire service.
“Now in terms of the response of the fire department; what do you think about the response and how it was handled?”
“They really, really ina bad shape. They come yah and then no water for long. About half an hour and no water the pour and the breeze di blow the fire and that dah weh mess up the thing. The breeze and no water. They reach yah…two pump and no water; no water at all. And the thing just the blow the fire.”
Leroy Grandmaster Young
“When deh yah apartment yah bun down, I mi do wah song bout fire, fire inna wi area. And this dah déjà vu all over again. Because the pump weh deh bring neva got no water. Deh gone back and return with another. Turn on the valve, no kinda pressure. This house was here from King Hatchet was a hammer – deh yah apartment deh yah from King Hatchet was a hammer.”
Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.