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Aug 6, 2018

Another Massive Fire on San Pedro; 87 Persons Homeless

Friday night ended horribly in San Pedro where the weekend activities associated with the very popular Costa Maya were marred by tragedy. A fire ignited at a wooden house sweeping uncontrollably through an entire block of houses in the Boca Del Rio area. Shortfalls of the Fire Department impaired their delivery of fire fighting efforts.  In a span of three hours, ten houses were burnt to the ground leaving more than eighty persons with nothing, but the clothes on their backs. The only silver lining is that there was no loss of life.  A News Five team on the ground has detailed coverage of the wreckage. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Around one-thirty on Saturday morning, as the prime tourism island destination was still alive with the ongoing Costa Maya International Festival activities, tragedy hit the town when a massive fire broke in the Boca Del Rio area on the island. What started as a small fire, believed to have been deliberately set, at the ground floor of a two-storey wooden structure would within minutes develop into a full-fledged inferno that spread quickly to consume up to ten houses and apartment complexes within proximity. Eighty-seven persons including children have been left without a roof over their heads after the place they called home for years was gutted.

 

Ted Smith

Ted Smith, Fire Chief

“We didn’t know when it started, we know when we got the call. We got the call from the police approximately one-thirty-six hours this morning and immediately responded to a structural fire in Boca Del Rio area. On arrival on the scene, according to the personnel that arrived, two structures were engulfed in flames—one was totally engulfed in flames and the other structure that located east, the western portion of the wall was engulfed in flames.”

 

Residents say that a fire truck carrying a portable pump and three personnel arrived within minutes to the scene of the fire. Contrary to Fire Chief Ted Smith, they say that only the house where the fire started was in the free burning stage when the national fire service personnel arrived on scene. The fire-fighters, however, could not contain the blaze, which wiped out an entire block.

 

Jorge Aldana

Jorge Aldana, San Pedro Resident

“I personally went to the fire department; they were not picking up the calls that I personally was placing and so we went to look for the fire department. We came on time with the fire personnel. Contrary to what the fire chief is saying, there was only one structure on fire; this one in front of us. About five minutes after they came on scene, the other structure got engulfed in flames. And it took them thirty-two minutes to figure out how to work their machine in terms of their pump. They could have saved the structure that my sister and my brother-in-law lives in and the fire could not have been to that magnitude if they knew what they were doing.”

 

Ted Smith

“The truck that arrived here arrived with three hundred gallons of water; it takes thirty gallons to fill each hose, there were three hoses used so one-third of the water was exhausted just to fill the hoses. They went into operation; there were three men on duty responding—two went into operation attacking the fire and the third tried to set up the portable pump. After the portable pump was put into place and went into operation, it did have some challenges because the officer in charge at the time used his wisdom and put a civilian to man the portable pump while three of them went into operation to out the fire. Somehow the choke was pulled for the portable pump and the portable pump eventually shut down.”

 

….that essentially caused the shutdown of the entire fire-fighting operation; a bucket brigade by residents kicked into action as the fire continued to spread, trapping residents into the dead-end street.  Boaters had to be called in to evacuate over fifty residents from the blistering heat of the flames via the lagoon.

 

Jorge Aldana

“Because this house got out of control, people got trapped on this side of the road and this is a dead end and so the fear was that the fire was just going to spread. And so what happened is that the breeze change and that was what helped the fire fighting. Thankfully, the breeze change and it didn’t spread that side, but we got things figured out and we had boats evacuating the children first on the dead end and then we get the adults and so forth in bots from volunteers.”

 

But what could have caused the fire? Residents say that a dispute between a landlady and her tenant may have led to a man setting the place on fire with the woman inside. Police were called out to the scene before statements were recorded to suggest that arson may have been at play. Superintendent Reymundo Reyes also says that the police responded to prevent any casualties.

 

Reymundo Reyes

Supt. Reymundo Reyes, O.C., San Pedro Police

“We are recording a statement from the owner of the building where it is alleged that the fire commenced. And based on her statement, then we will be looking for a suspect.”

 

Duane Moody

“So it is suspected to be arson?”

 

Supt. Reymundo Reyes

“Based on what the lady is saying that she has been having problems with a tenant. We the police engaged in trying to move people from their premises. Some of them were still insisting that they want to run inside their house to try save some items and so forth, but I believe that as a police officer, life comes first and that’s why some of them had to be restrained from going into the building—one we have to look at the heat; two, smoke. They might say that I am far and so far, but the thickness of the smoke coming in could have suffocated them, dropped in the house and then that could have been a fatality.”

 

…but for Amilcar Veras and his thirty plus tenants, it wasn’t until an hour and a half later when the five apartments, eleven rooms and his house caught fire. That in their opinion was adequate time for them to have retrieved their belongings. Veras says that the property was uninsured. His worry, however, is for his tenants who have also lost everything.

 

Amilcar Veras

Amilcar Veras, Fire Victim

“I had to run upstairs and downstairs and wake up everybody because everybody was sleeping. But everybody lose everything. So I am concerned about the people who lived here with me to lose everything. Last night the police don’t let the people work, because people want help, but they don’t let people work. So that’s why this house wasn’t to get burn last night, but the police make the house burn because they no let people help. They took me from inside my house and push me out.”

 

The fire was contained two and a half hours later, just after four a.m., but by then nothing could have been saved. Duane Moody for News Five.

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