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Aug 19, 2022

Fire Officials Say Cause of Deadly San Ignacio Fire was a Lit Candle

Merlene Wellington

A well-known food vendor lost her life in a house fire at her residence near 18th Street and Swallow Drive in San Ignacio on Wednesday night.  Merlene Wellington was a fixture in front of the Victor Galvez Stadium where she sold food on weekends.  When her electricity was disconnected sometime earlier, the elderly woman decided to remain at home to prepare food for Thursday’s sale.  She never made it to the following day.  Wellington’s charred remains were discovered after firemen were able to extinguish the inferno.  It’s a tragedy that her family and loved ones are still grappling with.  Tonight, we get a perspective from the National Fire Service.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Sixty-two-year-old Merlene Wellington perished in a house fire in San Ignacio on Wednesday night.  The cause of the deadly blaze, according to fire officials, may have been a lit candle.


Kenneth Mortis

Kenneth Mortis, Station Supervisor, National Fire Service

“We’re kind of like leaning towards a candle, as we have learned that the building had no electricity.  We did manage to confirm that Ms. Hendy habitually used a candle as a means of light.  Unfortunately, at this moment, the family doesn’t want to believe that a candle was left in the room.  That’s what the investigators came up with and that’s what we’re basically leaning towards.”


Lee Smith wasn’t around at the time of the fire that claimed his mother’s life. The Santa Elena resident heard of Wellington’s tragic demise from his nieces and nephews. They also pointed to a candle as the cause of the fire.


Lee Smith

Lee Smith, Son of Deceased

“My niece and my nephew dehn, di way how dehn mi feel da like, yoh know, dehn mi feel bad and then my nephew tell me that, you know, granny current mi out off and thing and she mi di light wahn candle and thing and ih look like ih left it somewhere bout een deh and I noh know if da dat cause di fire and thing, but I really sad about that and thing, check.”


Investigators spoke with forty-one-year-old Shantel Hendy who reported that shortly after eleven o’clock that night, she heard her mother yell fire.  Upon making checks, she observed thick smoke emanating from her mother’s room.  She attempted to open the door on two occasions but was unable to do so.


Kenneth Mortis

“The door itself was one of those old original mahogany doors.  The locking mechanism was a heavy-duty locking mechanism so if one individual tried to break down the door and wasn’t successful then they should have probably thought about a battering ram or probably get somebody heavier, you know.  There are a lot of factors why the door couldn’t be broken by one individual, let alone that door behind it, it now has heat.  It now has, probably water was applied, the wood definitely expanded more than normal.  Those would have been the factors to contribute why they couldn’t break down that door successfully. What we came up with, the timing that the fire occurred, Ms. Hendy was asleep and eventually family members got alerted of such.  Some managed to come out of the building unscathed, while Ms. Hendy, she woke up in a bit of a disoriented state and she was overcome by smoke and heat.  Unfortunately, for her, she was literally at the exit of the door as to where the investigators found her and that is where we concluded that she probably passed out, became unconscious and then she succumbed as a result of the heat and the smoke inhalation.”


In remembering his mother, Lee recalls Merlene Wellington as a hard-working woman who was invested in her food business.


Lee Smith

“All I could seh that my old lady da wahn very [hard] working lady, you know, everybody wahn miss ahn and thing, you know, and I mi really feel bad and thing that I neva deh round fi help my ma, you feel mi.  I live ova [Santa] Elena and I carry on and ih sad fi di old lady dead like that.  She neva deserve fi dead like that.”


Isani Cayetano for News Five.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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