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Aug 29, 2003

Fire destroys Caye Caulker inn

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Two suspicious fires on Caye Caulker last night have fire officials and the Village Council perplexed. The first blaze destroyed several guesthouses owned by Simon Morris, who is currently away in the United Kingdom, while the second ravaged The Split’s palapa bar on the other side of the island. News 5 was on the scene today.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

It did not take long for the blaze to completely engulf the thatch roof complex that had fifteen rooms, a main office, bar and storeroom. Several hours after the fire was brought under control, water was still being sprayed on the burning ashes of what use to be Seaside Cabañas.

Sometime between one and two this morning, the fire started here and then quickly spread to the other parts of the building. The island’s small fire crew and villagers fiercely fought the blaze, but weather conditions made it difficult.

Jacqueline Woods

“When you arrived at the complex some of the cabañas were already on fire?”

Dean Baldwin, Employee, Seaside Cabañas

“Most of them were all gone, even up to the big one right there. We had a very powerful wind, high gusts and it just tipped it off and made it just run in like five minutes.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Was anybody staying at the cabañas at the time of the blaze?”

Dean Baldwin

“We had four guests and they all got safe. A couple of the guys that were really pushing themselves to helping people got hurt.”

Jacqueline Woods

“What kind of injuries did they receive?”

Dean Baldwin

“Guys happened to punch glass open or get their feet cut open or hands all swollen up. I mean they’re all right, but at least everybody came out and do what they had to do.”

The firemen had no access to the property and had to use a neighbours yard to reach the blaze. Owner of Vega’s Inn, Maria Vega says she is lucky that her establishment received damage only to the landscape.

Maria Vega, Owner, Vega Inn

“Our lawn and our almond trees and palms and everything, once again we have to start again. But we do sympathise for the owner’s of the property next door.”

Today fire officials and the police were on the scene investigating the incident, including the disturbing news that the blaze was deliberately set. Fire Chief Henry Baizar says it is too early to say whether it was arson.

Henry Baizar, Fire chief

“We are interviewing the person who actually saw the fire, or at least the person who we know saw the fire at it’s early stage. And by doing that, find out exactly where he saw, what he saw and from there we will go on to determine exactly where the fire start in the building. And then we want to find out exactly what was in the building, if anybody was in the building at the time. And we start to rule out if it’s electrical or if it’s not electrical and we start to rule things out until we come and determine exactly what started the fire.”

But what is highly suspicious is that, no sooner was the blaze controlled, the fire-fighters were quickly summoned to the other end of the island. The Split’s palapa bar was on fire and it did not take long for that building to completely burn. Do islanders believe that the fire was also set? Baizar says he does not know yet, but it’s what his workers found along the way to the scene that makes both incidents highly suspicious.

Henry Baizar

“What I can say is that, what he said is that while going to the next fire, there were obstacles on the road, apparently people put things across the road, so virtually anyone can make up their minds as to exactly what went on that side.”

Manuel Heredia, Area Rep., Belize Rural South

“Well, I think it is too sad, especially the way I see it nowadays, is when things are going good there are some bad-minded people that will try to see that it doesn’t happen. But hopefully with the cooperation of everybody, that will not happen in the future.”

But why would anyone want to destroy the Seaside Cabañas? The complex was located along the sea front and it soon became a popular stop for both islanders and tourists. But sources tell News 5 that the building’s previous owner was not well liked because they alleged he kept away people he thought would give his establishment a bad name. Islanders believe that whoever burnt down the building may have been someone who was turned away.

Dean Baldwin

“Perhaps. That’s the talking I’ve been hearing all along. But these bosses that I have are pretty cool. They don’t hang out with everybody, but they treat everybody well. Everybody is welcomed in the bar, once they don’t disrespect the guests and make a lot of noise; that’s all they ask for. And a lot of guys like to get wasted and do whatever they feel, because they are in Belize and this is their home.”

“We are out of a job for quite a period of time until the guys get back on their feet. I mean, they are young, they just got their place not every six to seven months, and regardless of what, the previous owner had or whatever, these guys don’t have nothing to do with it.”

In the meantime, the Village Council Chairman, Alberto Villanueva, says as the officials try to determine if it was arson, Caye Caulker residents come together in times of disaster and will continue to promote tourism on the island.

Alberto Villanueva, Village Council Chairman

“I mean Caye Caulker is about the ambiance and the rustic nature of the island. We will definitely try to do our best to combat this issue.”

Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

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