Four buildings consumed and three damaged in Caye Caulker fire

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 45            November 26, 2009

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Photo by Desi Rosado

Villagers in Caye Caulker are still in shock after a fire in the heart of darkness completely consumed four buildings while partially damaging three other neighboring structures. The incident, a sight the village has not seen for years, took place in the beginning hours on Tuesday awakening villagers to a state of chaos. After a few hours of furious battle against vibrant orange flames, villagers were left in the throes of rage and full of questions stemming from allegations of negligence and a delayed response by the Caye Caulker Fire Department to the emergency.

    Of the structures left in ashes are two wooden, two-storey buildings belonging to Costa Maya Beach Cabanas Resort which are owned by the Rosado family. Both buildings are estimated at about $400, 000 BZ combined, while a newly constructed two-storey wooden residential structure owned by Haywood Curry, also destroyed by blazing flames is estimated at $350, 000 BZ. The final casualty was claimed in the form of a bungalow wooden structure which belonged to Ocean Pearl Royal Hotel and estimated at $40,000BZ.

    In an interview with The Sun, Ruby Rosado described how the chaotic and terrifying incident unfolded. “We were told about the fire a few minutes to one this morning (Tuesday). We made calls to the Fire Department over and over but they were no where to be found. At this point four houses were already engulfed in flames,” explained Rosado. She added that, “When the fire men arrived, their water pump was not working. A resident by the name of “Doce” came afterwards with a pump to start pumping water. By that time dozens of neighbors were trying to help put out the fire.”

    According to the Head of the Caye Caulker Police Sub Formation, Sergeant Leslie Wade, the Police was informed of the fire through a phone call received at the Station at about 2:15 a.m. According to an official police interview, after receiving the information, officers were dispatched to the scene on Beach Front Street in the Split Area of the village. When they arrived, Sergeant Wade remembers seeing several structures fully engulfed in flames. Wade stated that, “Police, along with some citizens worked hand in hand in a bucket brigade and with the assistant of a small pump that was loaned to us by a villager, we managed to put out the fire at about 4:15 a.m.” Sergeant Wade explains that assistance was also rendered by the San Pedro Fire Service and the Caye Caulker Department, which is comprised of two firefighters.

    From the time the fire was brought under control to the time it was extinguished, four structures had been consumed by the inferno. In addition, two walls of a small pink bungalow building belonging to Rene Fumes, along with a storeroom and a wall of a two-storey building the property of Costa Maya Beach Cabana Resort, had been the victims of fire, smoke and water damage.

    Initial police investigation, as of press time, has revealed that Danish nationals Hanna Jensen and Rene Peterson were guests at Ocean Pearl Royal Hotel vacationing in one of their cabanas. Although pieces of the puzzle explaining the true timeline of the incident have not unfolded, Sergeant Wade has been able to establish that Jensen and Peterson lit a mosquito coil in their room in an effort to repel the flying insects and it eventually fell on the rug. It is believed that the rug caught fire which quickly spread through the building and on to neighboring structures.

    Owner of Ocean Pearl Hotel, Efrain Novelo, was alerted about the fire by his confused and frightened guests. Novelo would not go into details but stated that while he is still in shock, the incident is disastrous. As for the home owner of the two-storey building Haywood Curry, he had just completed and furnished his new home a day prior to the fire. Curry claims that it is his strong belief that if the Fire Department had responded in a timely fashion and if their equipment had functioned as it should have, his home would have been saved.

    However, not only is the alleged delayed response of the Fire Department causing contention in the village but witnesses claim that fire officials appeared to be intoxicated when they arrived to tackle the fire. Other assertions from angry and disgruntled owners, family, and friends of the fire victims collude that the department’s water pump was not in a functioning condition and therefore proved useless at a time it was needed the most.

    Leading the investigation for the Fire Department is Belize City Training Officer Kenneth Mortis. In a press conference held at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Mortis flatly denied the allegations made against the department. “The department received the call sometime after two this morning. We are getting reports that calls were done probably a time before but I can only base myself on the time the department got the call,” stated Mortis. That call was received, according to Mortis, at exactly 2:23 a.m. with a second call logged into their caller ID at 2:26 a.m. At that time, Mortis states that fire officials responded.

    “Just allegations” is how Mortis explained the accusations that fire officials responded in a state of inebriation.” When questioned as to the water pump’s condition, Mortis stated that due to the rain which had descended over Caye Caulker, the pump suffered electrical problems at the scene of the fire rendering it useless. However, he continued to explain that the Fire Department’s investigations into the cause of fire and allegations made against his department have not been finalized. Investigations will continue while an internal investigation conducted by the Department itself will commence.

    At least 10 tourists were staying at the two resorts at the time of the fire but no one was hurt. As for the Danish couple, they were detained for questioning and were released on Tuesday afternoon. Following the mayhem during the fire, both Fire and Police personnel from San Pedro Town were dispatched to Caye Caulker to assist in the effort to extinguish the blaze. Total lost and partial structural damages are estimated at almost a million dollars.

    The Police Department also continues with their investigation.
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