Still No Clues In Chateau Fire
Tonight, the Fire Department is no closer to determining the cause of the fire that claimed a Belize City landmark, the Chateau Caribbean. Fire Chief Ted Smith told us this evening that they still don't know the cause, but that the investigators worked at the scene looking for clues.
As we reported, on Sunday morning at around 8:00, a fire started at the back of the building, reportedly in the kitchen. At the time about 8 persons were in the building, and police had to get out one last man who was packing up - even as the building was filling up with smoke. Staff and two sets of guests escaped unharmed, and the only injury was to a fireman who cut his arm.
It is a total loss for the longtime owner, Mr. Lo, who has declined comment. He lived at the hotel and lost all his personal possessions and his business.
The elegant, colonial style sea front building was first erected in 1927 as the Biddle home. It later became Belize's first private hospital, and then a hotel and restaurant.
Employees Try to Pick Up Pieces from Devastating Chateau Caribbean Fire
Employees of the Chateau Caribbean are picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed the iconic restaurant. While most people are preparing for the Christmas, scores of employees have been left jobless. Official investigations are ongoing, but a long-serving employee of the Chateau provides gripping details of what went awfully wrong on Sunday morning when a fire broke in the kitchen and demolished the landmark establishment. Maria Villanueva was in the kitchen prepping for a catering when the fire erupted. She also believes that the fire department was slow in responding. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Maria Villanueva is one of forty-five employees at the Chateau Caribbean Hotel. Tonight, she is out of work, following a devastating fire that eviscerated the historic colonial building on Sunday. As head chef, Villanueva’s primary responsibility is to oversee the preparation of food. That morning, the kitchen was very busy.
Maria Villanueva, Head Chef, Chateau Caribbean Hotel
“We had a catering to go for 11:45. I done boil my noodles, I done about to boil my vegetables for the noodles. The other girls were putting the… We have sweet and sour chicken. We have Chateau beef. We have fish in lemon garlic. We have… what else? Five items, oh the egg rolls. We have that and the blueberry pie and the key lime pie. We done have that, everything ready and then… While I turn to get vegetables, I only hear the long noise, then I heard boom. So I spun around and asked my coworker what is that?”
…and just like that the ceiling inside the kitchen was on fire. Neither Maria nor the staff working with her took notice at first.
“When we looked up, I tell ahn gyal wahn fyah and we sih di ceiling engulfed in fyah. Da dah corner [right deh] di corner where we prepare di meat and soh fi chop. Da right there di flame start. But then ih look like dat done engulf eena di ceiling and we noh know. Maybe di smoke mi di come up but we don’t see it. Da when da mussi di pressure ah di fyah mek di ceiling drop down and we couldn’t, we try, we try wi best. We tried the extinguisher. She had one, I had one and the other girl had one. We couldn’t save it.”
Neither could the fire department. Admittedly, Fire Chief Ted Smith recognized the intensity of the conflagration, as well as a number of setbacks that his men had to overcome in fighting the fire.
Ted Smith, Fire Chief, National Fire Service
“It was quite a fire. There will always be challenges because we play catch up.”
While there has been mixed feedback from those present at the scene of the blaze, complete destruction of the twentieth century architecture is being attributed to tardy response on the part of the National Fire Service. According to Villanueva, firemen did not spring into action until about an hour after arriving on the scene.
“This is poor, poor, poor work for the fire department. Dehn tek like one hour fi try out di fire, dat time di fire done destroy the building. Dat time dehn coulda mi save this ova da part, di cement part. Dehn didn’t do it because dehn run out of wata. Dehn don’t have any wata at all and di sea is right.”
In spite of an additional thirty recruits officially joining the fold last Wednesday, the National Fire Service is, itself, constantly under fire and seemingly leaves a lot to be desired.
“You saw consistently a constant flow of water, tens of thousands of gallons of water thrown into that fire to bring that fire under control. We do not have a perfect National Fire Service but we have a fire service that is dedicated and tried its very best and I am sure you can see some of that from the footage that was taken out there.”
The complement of employees at Chateau Caribbean has been rendered jobless. Villanueva has been working here for the past twenty-eight years.
“I love my work and I love my job and I love the way how my boss dehn treat all the staff. We have wahn nice boss and he treat we to di best ah ih ability. We noh have no problem with them and whenever we want help or something he willing to help we. And for we gaan through this, this da like wahn disaster for we because all of us are single mothers who work here and Mrs. Lou she is the one weh help we and told we dat we da single mothers. She tried to help us. She’s a mother and she’s a boss and she is everything to we. We couldn’t save it. We couldn’t. All weh we coulda do we tell dehn unu let’s go and we get outta here and save fu we life. Then Mr. Lou was running back upstairs in the fire and we tell ahn Mr. Lou you cannot go anymore in there. It’s dangerous, the ceiling wahn collapse. Then I look round fu Mrs. Lou and I cohn get ahn outta di store room and I bring ahn out pan di street. One suit a clothes, dehn noh have anything, couldn’t salvage anything. Everything destroyed in the fire.”
“Were there any guests occupying any of the rooms at the time?”
“Three rooms. Three rooms at that time, but dehn come out with dehn luggage, everything. We neva mek dehn get hurt eena di fyah. We mek sure dehn tek dehn out.”
Landmark building, Chateau Caribbean Hotel, destroyed by fire
The Chateau Caribbean Hotel, one of the old capital’s landmark buildings, which was built in 1927 and was a favorite hotel and restaurant which has seen many glory days, including the filming of an action movie Dogs of War, was destroyed by a huge fire which began about 7:30 this morning, Sunday, November 27.
Even up to 3:30 this afternoon, smoke was still rising from the burnt remains of the building. The flames were completely put out at about 9:30 tonight, about 14 hours after fire engulfed the iconic landmark.
The elegant Chateau Caribbean Hotel, made of timber and concrete, was located in the Fort George area, at the corner of Marine Parade and South Park Street.
The fire reportedly began in the kitchen of the establishment. It quickly spread from there to the other parts of the building. The guests of the hotel were safely evacuated and the Belize City Fire Service went to the scene and commenced its attempts to put out the flames that had engulfed the building.
On our arrival on the scene, at about 9:00 this morning, thick smoke and flames were coming out of the roof of the building and firefighters from four fire trucks did their best to put out the fire.
A fireman told us that they could not gain entry into the building, and had to just spray water into the building from the outside.
While we were watching, a fireman who was on the verandah of the third floor of the hotel managed to remove a burglar bar from one of the windows, which gave them access through that window to spray water into the building. At the same time, two more firemen on the truck’s ladder used tools to remove the burglar bar from another window to also gain entry.
During an interview with the media this evening at the National Fire Service headquarters, Fire Chief Ted Smith said that that there were challenges.
Firstly, the firemen were exhausted after battling a fire at West Collet Canal which erupted about 1:40 Sunday morning and was put out at about 4:30 that morning.
After putting out the fire, the firefighters returned to base and while they were cleaning up and putting tools and equipment in order, they received another fire call at about 8:30, this time at the Chateau Caribbean Hotel. On their arrival, they saw the building engulfed in flames. He said that they responded immediately, and within 5 minutes they were on the scene, but he still does not know why the Fire Service was not called earlier.
Smith said that from his house, he had seen thick black smoke from about 8:00 that morning. The fire was burning prior to the smoke being seen, and was well underway when the Fire Service was called.
Chief Smith said that they responded with 3 shifts of firefighters and 4 trucks. However, the firefighters working on the shift that would have been done on Saturday night could not leave, and they went onto the Chateau Caribbean Hotel fire scene and battled that fire throughout the day.
He said that the firemen were so exhausted that one of them fell and one of them sustained an injury to his hand, because he was not wearing his protective suit when he smashed a glass window.
Chief Smith said that among the challenges in putting out the fire at the hotel was the fact that the firemen could not enter the building because the flooring had collapsed.
The police and fire investigators have begun an investigation into the cause of the massive fire.
The Chateau Caribbean was a premier hotel and restaurant which was featured on Trip Advisor and given high ratings. It was also featured on many other hotels directories and magazines.
We were told by a long-time resident of the area that the building was constructed in 1927 by a German immigrant, Mr. Brittles, and his family. He later sold the building to a physician known as Dr. McCleary, who turned it into a hospital and named it the Holden Memorial Hospital to honor the men who died in World War 2.
A piece of history has now been destroyed.