The Punta Gorda Magistrate Court closed today for proceedings as the Fire Department investigates the origins of a blaze. Officers on patrol of the area came across the blaze at about two-thirty this morning. The fire gutted the administrative offices and has caused a major disruption to the work of the lower court, but fortunately land and other valuable documents were not destroyed. The building which is located next to the police station will remain closed and cases will be heard as soon as another location is identified. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

An overnight fire which gutted the interior of the Punta Gorda Administration Building has momentarily disrupted the services of the magistrate’s court in that municipality.  While the chamber of magistrate Emerson Banner remains intact, the adjoining office at the rear of the assembly room was completely devoured, including its furniture, computer equipment, as well as a few records.

Lovette Nunez

Lovette Nunez, Court Administrator, Magistracy Department

“At this time I’d like to reassure persons who have used their land documents as surety for persons they’ve bailed, that those land documents are secured and not destroyed.  We’re in the process of doing a quick audit to see what we have, to secure whatever assets are not destroyed and to the police; Mr. Alvarez has been so kind as to identify a room for us in the police department for us to store those documents.”

According to Court Administrator Lovette Nunez, the digitization and transfer of legal documents to a central location in Belize City had recently been completed.  That effort was part of a countrywide project to house records from all jurisdictions in electronic format.  Superintendent Simeon Alvarez, the Officer Commanding the Punta Gorda Formation, says his men were doing a routine check of the property when they were alerted to the fire.

Simeon Alvarez

Supt. Simeon Alvarez, O.C., Punta Gorda Police Formation

“They were checking the compound, they were doing a compound check when they observed smoke coming from the magistrate’s court building which is just across or next to our station.  And, as a result of that, they immediately called for the fire department, who came and they had to force entry into the section of the magistrate’s court to control the fire.”

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, as local officials are trying to ascertain whether it was an incendiary or electrical fire.

Supt. Simeon Alvarez

“They are still putting together their reports and so at this time we cannot say whether it was electrical or any other means and, like I said, it’s out of my scope to say that.  I go back to say that we want to get this process up and running and as quickly as possible because we do know that we offer a service to the people and we need to make sure that is set in place.”

Isani Cayetano

“From a cursory look of the building what would you say are some of the damages that were sustained?”

Simeon Alvarez

“Well, I could have observed that computers, a lot of equipment for the office definitely got destroyed.”

It is estimated that a total of about thirty thousand dollars in damages was sustained as a result of the fire.

Lovette Nunez

“The court has very little damages and so sessions are still going to be held there.  We were presently looking at identifying spaces because monies were allocated for the repairs and renovations of the court.  And so, we will be doing that shortly and putting out a notice where people can conduct their daily business.”

Of note is that the administration building is one of few colonial structures in Punta Gorda Town. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Channel 5