Three houses destroyed by fire in Belize City

There was a fire in Belize City early this morning in Belize City. Sometime around 12:30, an abandoned  house on Gwen Street caught fire and the blaze quickly spread to two other two story buildings which house 8 families. All three houses were destroyed and some 30 people have now been left homeless. Residents say that they believe that the houses could have been saved if the fire truck had not run out of water. Rutillio Villanueva was asleep when he was alerted by neighbors that his house was on fire.  

RUTILIO VILLANUEVA

We were asleep and our neighbor came and wake us up and when I heard them shouting for my wife “Dona Justina, Fire”.  When I open the door I just saw the blaze. I woke them up and said “fire” and I started to call upstairs. But really and truly The 2 structures could have been saved but the thing is from the beginning, If a fire truck was late. It was almost 30 minutes late when they arrived here… the 1st structure was already down on the ground. And after they came they had it under control but the truck then ran out of water.

According to Villanueva, it was almost another hour before the fire truck could continue to fight the blaze.

RUTILIO VILLANUEVA

By the time the 2nd building was on fire already and they still did not have water. The hose would come and go but they could not controlling and then the 3rd one caught fire and it was only at the end that the truck from Ladyville came and from the canal in front of Publix [Supermarket] that’s how they begun getting water and that was how they controlled this one so that the other one would not burn.

Fire Chief Ted Smith spoke to the media this afternoon and said that by the time they were called, the fire was already spreading to the second house. He was asked about the complaints made by residents.

TED SMITH, National Fire Chief

The extent of the fire development that we met clearly showed that the fire was burning for an extended period of time before we were informed and were able to respond to the structure. That is not a Secret. The extent of the fire, that entire structure was on fire after  we arrived on the scene. We can only respond to an incident or emergency when we are informed. We keep emphasizing that. On arrival we went into operation. We exhausted both tanks of water. One was deployed to the canal and eventually supplementary water came back to the scene. Ladyville firetrunk was brought in to set up an additional attack from the Eastern section, operating from the canal near Publix and we were able to contain that fire. If you notice the close proximity of the wooden structures… you will notice that close extreme proximity to the fire structure and yet it did not suffer fire damage. So it shows that there must have been a good fire fight. The fire department has a way in which it operates but we have limited fire trucks and a limited amount of water on the trucks. We can do a very good job initially if we go and find a fire in itse early stage, And it’s still in its confined state. When we find the fire like that when you respond with the 2 units that we have we are able to contend that fire effectively but when we find a fire at this extent in development then it requires supplementary water supply from the nearest water canal. That takes time.

Smith was also asked if he feels that there was nothing that they could have done to save the other two structures.

TED SMITH, National Fire Chief

With hindsight we could always do better. Let us be realistic in life. You do the best you have can. You have seconds to make decisions on the fire ground; fractions of seconds. That is not much time. You cannot sit there and think about what you’re going to do. You have to get into operations so with hindsight after you go back. This morning we did a critique; we see how we could have done things better. That is why we do a critique. Whenever there is an emergency that is the reality but when you arrive at an emergency and when you have seconds to make a decision, as I said, this is the Belize national fire service. I do not have 5 trucks that I can respond with, where I can afford to lose 2 in the firefight and I don’t have to worry. I only have what I have. Once I lay down our equipment and/or equipment is laid down we have to make much of what is there. If the fire department had performed so poorly then the whole block would have burned down with the proximity of the houses. And we are talking about extremely old houses. I am sure that those who know Glenn Street know the condition of those houses.

Meanwhile, Rutilio Villanueva and other families affected are now homeless and have lost everything.

RUTILIO VILLANUEVA

Everything has been lost; my stove, my sofa, my clothing, television, refrigerator. You can see from the videos everything is on the ground. I know have nothing. ma’am I am asking for the public to please help me with material or whatever. It would be much appreciated. We are out of everything we have nothing; not even anything to eat, no money. We have lost everything.

Anyone wishing to assist Rutilio can reach him at 666-1547.

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