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Feb 9, 1998

Fire destroys downtown building

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It was a familiar story. The peace and quiet of a Sunday night in Belize City shattered by the electric news of a downtown fire. But this time the outcome was anything but familiar… as skill, circumstances and good fortune combined to keep the old capital out of serious trouble.

It had all the ingredients for a disaster of major proportions: dry weather, old wooden buildings and a crowded section of downtown Belize City. The fire is believed to have started sometime before 8:00 Sunday night in the residence of Kishore Chugani, proprietor of one of the three stores in the lower flat, which front on Albert Street. But while the flames licked high in the night sky and neighbors frantically prepared for the worst, the inevitable did not happen. Firefighters surrounded the blaze and refused to let it gain the upper hand.

Henry Baizar, Fire Chief

“We responded with ahm, two vehicles and ahm, initially when we got here ahm, what aid us in em, containing the that fire quickly was simply because ahm, while the transmission was being made about the fire to the ahm, to the officers who were on call the operation officer was just coming over the bridge at the same time in his vehicle and so he came straight out here. He got out here before the vehicles, ahm, made an assessment of the situation and directed the vehicles exactly where to go and directed the people exactly what to do. That aid us considerably.”

Unlike instances in the past, where lack of access to water has resulted in small fires becoming towering infernos, on Sunday night the hoses were pumping like a weightlifter on steriods.

Henry Baizar

“It’s when we got here initially ahm, the next building just behind us ahm, ahm, that was just started to catch. And ah, we concentrate all our first line unto the building to prevent spreading onto that building. From there then on we got water from the canal from the other truck that was on the canal we put in three more lines. Another one came in the front and we put in another two in the rear. And we starta surround the building and just contain the fire.”

Q: Is this a testimony to how good you guys are that ahm, only one building was burnt?

“Well we tried our best and it all depends on when we get the call and ahm, if we get where we are and if there’s water available. We go to some places and it’s very, we can’t get water. And ahm, once you’re out the water phew, that’s what out the fire. We were able to get water from the canal as quickly as possible and contain the fire.”

Patrick Jones

“While investigators sift through the rubble for clues as to the origin of the blaze, preliminary indication is that it started upstairs and burned downwards, reducing the Madhus Shopping Center and Goldstar establishments to ashes.”

The third shop, Wonderful Fashion, escaped the flames, but its contents fared little better as they were largely destroyed by the combination of smoke and water. The goods of all three stores, however, were insured for a total of a quarter million dollars and the building itself, owned by George Fuller, was covered for forty thousand. With memories of last year’s Albert Street disaster not yet extinguished from residents memories, the comparatively light damage this time around could be said to border on the miraculous.

Henry Baizar

“I don’t know if it’s a miracle. I think ahm, what happened is that ahm, we got here in time and ahm, the guys really did a splendid job.”

So this time around the firemen are heroes and downtown Belize City has been spared…but the dry season is just beginning, there’s no shortage of old wooden houses and luck may not always be on our side. Patrick Jones for News Five.

Fire department investigators have not yet determined the cause of the blaze. The Chugani family was at the nearby Hindu Temple when the fire started. In addition to the three stores, a fourth, Footlocker, also suffered water damage to its merchandise.

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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