San Pedro residents and visitors battle major fire

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 9, No. 49            Demember 23, 1999

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Raging fire engulfs Shop 1001 and Nelder residence
Community members use hose to wet down adjacent building in order to keep fire from spreading - photo by Julian Rivero
Buildings destroyed by the blaze - photo by Julian Rivero

An enormous cloud of smoke and blazing flames was the awful sight on Barrier Reef Drive last weekend when an unfortunate fire destroyed two buildings. Fire engine sirens called the people to attention and led them to the site where the fire had commenced. Many believed everything was going to be under control but for some unexplained reason the fire truck's pump would not work. The fire department ran frantically back and forth to start the pumps but to no avail. This is when the community decided to take matters into their own hands to prevent the fire from spreading. By then the flames had intensified and spread to another house. Quick thinking by the locals immediately started a bucket brigade going from the beach to the site. Pigtail and lard buckets used by residents for many household purposes were thrown from verandas and quickly gathered to help collect water. The lines of volunteers soon ballooned into hundreds of people. Young children, the elderly, tourists and locals came together to fight the fire which was quickly consuming the buildings. At this point many bold people got on the roof of the neighboring houses risking their lives to help save them from fire. At this time the flames were so huge that many were afraid that hotels on the opposite side of the street would be engulfed by the fire. Fast thinking by the owners of these establishments to keep their places literally showered with water kept them from catching fire. All this time the fire department's water pump was still not functioning.

    A thunderous cheer from the hundreds of volunteers signaled the dying out of the fire but still more had to be done. Like an action packed movie, when the police officers arrive to the scene of the crime after the hero has single-handly destroyed the villain, so was this case. With the fire under control, miraculously the fire department's pump began to work. An hour and twenty-five minutes after the fire had commenced, two houses had been completely destroyed and the fire was kept from spreading.

    The following statement was released by the San Pedro Police Department concerning the residents affected and their losses incurred. Clive Nelder, 56, Canadian/Belizean pilot of No. 63 Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro Town, reported that at about 7:45 p.m. on Friday, December 17th whilst on the verandah at the above address he heard a cracking noise coming from inside the house. He immediately checked into the matter and saw smoke coming from the ceiling fan. He cut off the switch box and went downstairs and the fire then spread quickly inside the wooden structure apartment. The eastern section of the apartment is used to house the complainant's business place namely as Royas Schulz and Nelder Architect. The estimated cost of damage to the household items and construction material is $180,000. The damage estimate for the office equipment is $150,000. Also destroyed was the sum of BZ$20,000 and US$11,000 in cash. The office equipment is insured for the sum of $90,000. The house was occupied by his wife Virginia Rojas Nelder, 44, Canadian architect and Kathryn Nelder, 19, Canadian student. All of their traveling documents were destroyed. The lower flat of the building is concrete and housed the 1001 Gift Shop owned by Santos Acosta, 35, Belizean businessman of Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro Town. The cost of damage caused to the gift shop has not been ascertained. Nothing was insured. The house is owned by Mr. Juan Alamilla, 62, tourist guide of  Pescador Drive, San Pedro Town. The house is valued at $200,000 and is insured with Atlantic Insurance Company for the sum of $90,000. The house measured 30' x 45'. The fire spread to a two flat wooden structure building about five feet south of the above building. The upper flat of the building is owned by Gonzalo Valdez, 51, fisherman of No. 9 Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro Town. The house was completely destroyed by the fire. The estimated cost of damage for both the building and household items is $75,000. The building which measured 45' x 50' was not insured.

    The lower flat of the wooden structure building houses the Book Center Liquor Shop and the Ambergris Art Gallery. The Book Center is owned by Mr. Leonel Reyes, 54, Belizean teacher of Corners Dolphin and Laguna Streets, San Pedro Town. The estimated cost of damage caused to the Book Center is $100,000. Nothing was insured. The Art Gallery is owned by Mr. Marcus Larios, 30, painter/artist of  Buccaneer Street, San Pedro Town. The estimated cost of damage caused to the Art Gallery is $3,340. Nothing was insured. The pump on the fire truck was not functioning and as a result over 300 persons assisted by forming a water bucket brigade. At about 9:10 p.m. on December 17th the fire was extinguished. The cause of fire is not yet known however it is suspected that it is due to electrical failure.

    The San Pedro Sun contacted San Pedro Fire Chief Dennis Plummer to comment about the problems the fire engine pump experienced and this was what he had to say. "The pump was in operation for about five minutes when the primer failed. The firemen then improvised and went to get water from the hydrant but unfortunately the truck was then having transmission problems, leaking fluid heavily." Mr. Plummer continued by saying, "We are extremely sorry for this unfortunate happening and we are looking at all the resources to fix the problems with the fire truck. The primer has already been fixed and the truck's transmission is being fixed as we speak."
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