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Aug 1, 2011

Huge fire on San Pedro leaves 24 homeless

A fire interrupted the dead of night on Sunday at La Isla Bonita. Five houses were completely destroyed in one of the island’s biggest fires rendering a total of twenty-four persons homeless. The blaze broke after midnight in the downtown area when the victims were in deep slumber; it was reportedly caused by an electrical fault. Residents claim the fire department, which has only two fire fighters on staff, was late and unprepared. The blaze was contained hours later when residents chipped in with a bucket brigade, but by then homeowners had lost everything. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports from San Pedro.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A towering inferno just after midnight on Sunday completely destroyed five houses in San Pedro Town.  Despite efforts by the local branch of the National Fire Service to quell the blaze all attempts to save the buildings and their contents were futile.  What remains is a shell of the lone concrete structure that stands on the property.  Elsewhere are charred uprights that once supported the walls and ceilings which sheltered as many as twenty-four occupants.  Among them was Ruben Madera.

Ruben Madera

Ruben Madera, Fire Victim

“Well I was at my bed at about 1:40 a.m. when my brother-in-law came and told us that he smelled some smoke [from] a fire there.  So I ran downstairs and I opened the saloon and when I saw some smoke coming [from] behind the refrigerator and the wall.  So I just run out again, opened [the door] then come back again because I got nervous so I just opened the doors and so, the windows.  So my wife went and hail my daughter-in-law and my son to come out because there is a fire.”

By that time the sweltering flames had already began spreading to the adjacent wooden homes, consuming everything on the premises.  The property also housed Neri’s Deli, a landmark on the island for Mestizo cuisine.  Madera’s brother-in-law Manuel Fernandez is today busy removing sheets of zinc that are left in the aftermath.   It’s a tough loss for him, compounded only by what he strongly believes was tardy response on the part of local authorities.

Manuel Fernandez, Fire Victim

“The fire engine came within an hour’s time and because this fire could have been stopped but the driver [and his crew] they were drunk.  They don’t know what they were doing.  They were just hauling out hoses like craziness and between that hour time that they came they take about half and hour more and they started to pump out water for ten minutes and they stopped again and they run the truck through the back.  Then the other fire engine came and they ran the hose from the boatyard to here and we have the water right close here where they could have gotten water.”

The fire raged on for another few hours before it was finally contained and extinguished by both fire personnel and an army of residents who, by that time, had formed a bucket brigade.  Like Fernandez the disappointment among the now displaced families is resounding.

Magdalena Madera

Magdalena Madera, Fire Victim

“They take so long to come.”

Isani Cayetano

“What were some of the items that you lost to this fire?”

Magdalena Madera

“Everything, my babies, everything.  My babies things, I have a small baby of one year old.  I lost everything, I just came out barefooted [with] nothing only my two babies.”

Manuel Fernandez

While the homes were uninsured it is estimated that almost four hundred thousand dollars in blood, sweat and tears has gone up in smoke.  The community has since opened its arms to the Maderas providing them with somewhere to stay until they are able to get themselves situated.

Manuel Fernandez

“We have a house that people give us to stay, you know, we have four rooms there for three week.  From there we have to walk out and see what we can do.  We give them people thanks for what they are doing for us also.  We really appreciate that help.”

Back at ground zero neighbors are rummaging through the rubble.  Nearby a little boy has found the singed remains of what was once his bicycle.  It has been reduced to a corroded weld of metal.  If nothing else the disaster has tested Madera’s will to rebound from the unimaginable.

Ruben Madera

“My wife is strong that she [has] already put chicken on the fire.  We have friends that are helping us and tomorrow we’re going to start to sell tacos again.  I have a friend that tells me to go and sell right in front of his house.  The owner of the land told me that I could clean up and build over a little small thing and start over again right.”

Starting over for Magdalena means finding a new job.

Magdalena Madera

“I’m planning to get a work meanwhile, me and my husband, so we can continue because the babies they need to eat and we also.  So we’re going to get another job.  I’m going to get another job.”

Relief efforts to assist the families have been established throughout the island, including this local convenience store where monetary donations are being accepted on their behalf. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Fire officials from Belize City have been deployed to the island to investigate the fire.

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6 Responses for “Huge fire on San Pedro leaves 24 homeless”

  1. audel says:

    in times like these i believe we belizeans need to put ourselves together and put a helping hand . when people are trying to do their best work hard for a living this is the time for us the community to give a helping hand

  2. cg says:

    hey Channel 5…let us know of an account number to make donations. This is rough, i hope they stay strong

  3. rod says:

    things like this will continue happening on this island because of all the poverty all all these foreigners building cardboard houses so close to each other there is no kind of building code on the island and on top too much sin on this island .

  4. Islander says:

    Rod, that is the dumbest statement I have ever heard.

    FYFI …Some of the victims not shown here are creole, and good friends of mine. Hard working born and raised Belizean Barbers.

    I bet that with a name like Rod you are not Belizean. If you hate San Pedro’s SIN so much why the heck don’t you pack your $#!% and leave? Give me your address I will round up some guys and we will help you pack your stuff so you can leave this sinful island.

  5. Alej says:

    when we most need the local authorities to help us they cant be there. I believe that the fire chief should have these worthless fire personnel have long term rest by simply let them go home and let them do what they do best. “DRINKING ON DUTY”

  6. oscar965 says:

    Thou i understand that the fire department cannot be at the location when a fire when it starts, they just seem to fumble and mess up every time. The fire chief is good at coming up with excuses. This is the kind of job where you cannot afford to MAKE ANY MISTAKES. If you waste precious time by not being organized, you get the results we got Saturday Night. The entire Fire Department in San Pedro needs to be changed. From the Chief going downwards. Many island residents see them drinking and socializing while being on duty. What a shame for San Pedro being the leading tourist destination and only having a fire department that arrives on time only for “parades”. I hope Heredia is reading this and does something. Why cause the fire was across the street from his home and i hope this gives him the wake up call that he needs. I hear he is organizing a fundraising event this wednesday or thursday which is good but that should include revamping the Fire Department in San Pedro.

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