The big building in the Free Zone took a licking from Hurricane Dean ...
but its owners were working hard to rebuild. What they didn't count on was
another kind of disaster. News Five's Marion Ali reports on a blaze last
night that lit up the sky of two nations.
"It took fire fighters eight hours to fight the blaze and prevent it from
spreading to neighbouring buildings. By the time the fire was extinguished
at around one this morning the twenty-one stores housed in this, the SP
2000 Plaza were totally gutted."
These images show the fire soon after it started around five Monday evening
and how it grew into this raging inferno two hours later. Marcela Perez who
works at Villa Enterprises just one building away, witnessed the evolution
of the tragedy.
Marcela Perez, eyewitness
"What happened we were inside at work noh and then from the glass here we
saw the smoke coming out so we ran outside and we went all the way in front
and all we could have seen was smoke coming out of the building. About
let's say twenty minutes after, we saw the fire finally blowing out and we
saw sparkles upstairs and employers were running in and out trying to save
what they could but it was almost impossible. The fire had started too fast
Perez said what initially started out as curiosity for her later turned
into panic as she had to run from the intense heat.
"It was very hot, the heat of the fire you know? One spell when the fire
blew out we had to run away because of the heat, noh. It was really scary.
It was horrible."
"When we arrived on the scene today local fire personnel were still
spraying the smouldering metal and burnt debris in an effort to prevent it
from re-igniting. Fire Chief, Henry Baizar told us that his main concern is
keeping the site damp since three floors stacked with dry goods collapsed
onto the ground floor and the fear is that it could once again flare up."
Henry Baizar, Fire Chief
"When the first truck arrived here, this part of SP at least three quarter
of it was already engulfed in flames. And that was the group from Corozal
who arrived here first with one truck and shortly after another truck came
here and then we mobilised from Belize City with one truck and two pickups
of fire fighters out here and then later on in the night we sent out
another truck. About the findings there's very little that we know at the
moment. We have very very sketchy reports, nothing much at all. Our main
thing right now is to try and get this thing, cause it's still burning in
While fire fighters battle to keep the fire out at SP Plaza, business at
the rest of the Free Zone was not and will not be affected. But Chief
Executive Officer at the Free Zone, Joel Cervantes, says the stores
directly affected and their one hundred and sixty-five employees will be
out of business and jobs for quite some time.
Joel Cervantes, Chief Executive Officer, Commercial Free Zone
"This will result in all these stores not being able to, how quick they
will be able to reinstate themselves and where within the Free Zone. We've
lost also the employment of these stores, noh. So the repercussions are huge."
There have been two previous fires at the Commercial Free Zone, which have
prompted officials to improve safety measures, but those changes have yet
to be fully implemented.
"All stores must have a fire extinguisher and depending on the size of them
it will be two or three and what size of fire extinguishers. We've had a
small fire engine here, but we've liaised with Corozal and Belize City and
they're always on a quick response should there be a fire. And we have had
meetings with Protecion Siempre Tu from Chetumal and this is the safest way
so far. Of course we need fire hydrants or so but that's for a future thing."
"How soon will you bring those hydrants on stream?"
"That's a big project. It's not as simple as it sounds. We'll be working on
it. Actually we've started. We already have the quotations and everything
so hopefully by the end of the year we could have installed a couple of them."
SP 2000 Plaza was affected severely three weeks ago when Hurricane Dean
shattered all its glass windows. The owner, Vijay Punjabi had just begun to
rebuild, replacing the glass with cement blocks.
Marion Ali for News Five.
Up to news time both fire and insurance personnel were conducting
investigations to determine the cause of the blaze and extent of the