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May 15, 2017

Fire Destroys Historic Audubon Building in Crooked Tree

Within hours of the kick-off of the popular cashew fest in the village of Crooked Tree, a fire broke out at the offices of the Belize Audubon Society. The wooden structure was quickly devoured by the blaze over the weekend and by the time the Fire Department responded, there was little they could do.  The organization lost everything housed inside the building including maps to equipment.  The origin of the fire is still under investigation. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Just after three a.m. on Saturday, as residents prepared for day-one of the annual Crooked Tree Cashew Festival, the unlikely would happen. The elevated wooden structure at the entrance of the village that housed the office of the Belize Audubon Society went up in flames. Executive Director Amanda Acosta says that she was notified by Site Manager Derek Hendy sometime after three-thirty about the incident.

 

Amanda Acosta

Amanda Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society

“When he called me at three-thirty, he was already getting calls from staff; two of the staff that we have actually live in Crooked Tree and Mister Hendy actually commutes on a daily basis. So when he called me, I asked him about the status—was it a controllable fire or was it out of control? The response was that it was already engulfed.”

 

Firefighters from the Ladyville substation responded to the scene, but by then the building was already destroyed and nothing could be saved.

 

Orin Smith

Orin Smith, Station Officer, National Fire Service

“On arrival on the scene, a forty-by-forty wooden and concrete structure was seen destroyed by fire. The remaining fires were put out. Investigation into the cause of that fire still presently ongoing.”

 

Reporter

“What’s the preliminary find?”

 

Orin Smith

“That I wouldn’t want to speculate at this time.”

 

While those results are pending, it is no secret that there has been contention between the Audubon Society and residents who do not want to adhere to sustainable harvesting of fish and wildlife within the protected area. So is it a case of arson?

 

Amanda Acosta

“The truth is that we have had contention in the past; it has been covered by the media. However, as of recent, there had not been any feelings of animosity that we had been getting. Of course, there are always undercurrents, but there had been no threats as far as we have known. We do work with the village council and we work through the school as well and like I said, the relationship is only contentious with certain groups within the community. So as far as we knew, we have no real suspects or anything. Like I said, for all we know it could be electrical.”

 

While the physical structure, equipment and material lost in the blaze is set at about eighty thousand dollars, it is considered much more valuable.  The building has been there almost two decades, but has been operational as co-managers of the protected area since the 1980’s when the village was designated as a protected area.

 

Amanda Acosta

“We actually were operational on the other side of the causeway. During Hurricane Mitch which was ’98, it had been flooded and we actually were looking to relocate the building. We relocated the building to that property that belongs to a village person who we rent it from—the property is not ours, but the building was. When we moved it, we actually expanded it and over the years we’ve invested in putting a really nice display in there; they had a lovely boardwalk imitation and birds; we had done a lot of maps. We had a profession from the United States did a whole exhibition on the value of Crooked Tree, the history of Crooked Tree and the products of Crooked Tree. So we had also had that exhibit in it. We also have summer programs, so we get groups going there. It is one of our nature school sites; so Belizean school kids, about a thousand kids go through that site.”

 

Several pieces of equipment such as binoculars and scopes, tools for the educational programs were also lost in the fire. But during flood situations, the building also housed members of the Belize National Coastguard, who service the community transporting them across the lagoon. So how does the Audubon replace all that has been lost?

 

Amanda Acosta

“We do have employees that we have to consider, so one of the things that we are looking at is a quick ray to remedy it. If anyone has gone to Saint Herman’s recently, they’ve known that we’ve had some PACT grants that have really improved the infrastructure there and we have some wooden structures that we are looking at perhaps mobilizing one of those just in terms of getting an information center. It would not be of the caliber or of the ability to host groups the way the previous one was. We will have to access really can we handle summer camp or school groups for the rest of the year there. So it has set us back in that regard.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

 

There was another fire on Saturday, but in the south, that has left a family of four without a roof over their heads. Around eleven a.m., police responded to a house on fire in Bella Vista Village, Toledo. The wooden structure with thatched roof was home to Elvira Peck and her three children—ages two, six, and sixteen. According to Peck, she left the house around seven a.m. that morning, leaving her children at home.  A neighbor was alerted by smoke coming from the house and rescued the children, who escaped unhurt. Investigations have since revealed that the fire was caused by one of the children, who was playing with a lighter. The building and its contents were completely destroyed by fire.

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