Mys­tery fire guts girls’ or­phan­age

-probe un­der­way into cause

Stabroek News Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Sharda Bac­chus

A fire of un­known ori­gin gut­ted the Sha­heed Girls Or­phan­age at Ole­an­der Gar­dens, on the East Coast of De­mer­ara early yes­ter­day morn­ing, dis­plac­ing 18 girls and caus­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in losses.

The fire started at about 6 am and within min­utes ripped through the two-storey wooden and con­crete struc­ture, lo­cated at Lot 7-8 Ole­an­der Gar­dens.

No in­juries were re­ported as the care­taker and all the girls man­aged to get to safety.

The fire started on the up­per flat and a source told Sun­day Stabroek that in­ves­ti­ga­tors do not be­lieve it was elec­tri­cal.

The pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion that was con­ducted yes­ter­day by fire ser­vice of­fi­cials re­vealed that care­taker, Shanti Pooran, 59, was alerted by an or­phan that smoke was em­a­nat­ing from the up­per flat of the build­ing.

The build­ing, which was not in­sured, housed the liv­ing quar­ters and prayer room on the up­per flat and a kitchen and din­ing area on the lower flat.

Pooran raised an alarm af­ter she was alerted about the fire and the Guyana Fire Ser­vice and po­lice were sum­moned.

When this news­pa­per vis­ited the scene yes­ter­day morn­ing, hours af­ter the fire started, fire­fight­ers were still present dous­ing the re­main­ing struc­ture, which was still smok­ing.

Res­i­dents said they were alerted af­ter they saw thick smoke com­ing from the build­ing. They said they im­me­di­ately as­sisted in get­ting the oc­cu­pants to safety.

One woman, who wished not to be named, said she was on her way to work when she no­ticed a large crowd, in­clud­ing the girls, stand­ing on the road.

Upon en­quir­ing, she said, she learnt the build­ing was de­stroyed in a fire. “When I watch I saw the en­tire place was burnt. Ev­ery­thing had al­ready fin­ish and the fire truck and so was on the road,” the woman re­lated.

The in­ci­dent has left Pooran trau­ma­tised.

The care­taker told this news­pa­per that she and a few of the girls were do­ing chores when they no­ticed the fire. “All we see is smoke. I don’t know which an­gle it was com­ing from and I didn’t hes­i­tate and I tell the girls them run. And we run out,” she said.

Ra­heema Ra­haman, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer (CEO) and trea­surer of the Sha­heed Boys and Girls or­phan­ages, ex­plained that she was at her East Bank De­mer­ara home when she re­ceived a call from Pooran, who in­formed her of the fire.

“She [Pooran] just said that the place is on fire so I just didn’t lis­ten to any­thing more I just told her get the chil­dren out and she said she had al­ready had the chil­dren them so I just race down to the scene,” Ra­haman re­called.

She said when she ar­rived at the scene, the build­ing was al­ready de­stroyed.

The girls, whose range in age from 4 to 17 years, have since been tem­po­rar­ily re­lo­cated to the Sha­heed Boys Or­phan­age, at 157 Alexan­der Street, Kitty. That fa­cil­ity houses 16 boys.

Ra­haman said that for now the girls will be oc­cu­py­ing the up­per flat of the Kitty build­ing, while the boys will be kept on the mid­dle flat.

Not elec­tri­cal

Guyana Fire Ser­vice (GFS) Fire Pre­ven­tion Of­fi­cer An­drew Holder yes­ter­day told Sun­day Stabroek that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been launched to de­ter­mine to cause of the fire.

How­ever, a GFS source said in­ves­ti­ga­tors have re­ceived con­flict­ing re­ports of what tran­spired.

“There were sev­eral the­o­ries or sev­eral bits of in­for­ma­tion that were given by the oc­cu­pants of the build­ing. At dif­fer­ent points in the day, this in­for­ma­tion seems to be chang­ing sig­nif­i­cantly… but what we know for sure at this point in time is that the fire is not elec­tri­cal, which is one of the no­tions they are try­ing to put for­ward,” the source ex­plained.

“It is not as a re­sult of elec­tri­cal, [and] not as a re­sult of any cook­ing ac­tiv­ity,” the source added, while not­ing that the fire has a “hu­man fac­tor to it.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors were said to have been in re­ceipt of ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion yes­ter­day af­ter­noon as they con­tin­ued to work to estab­lish the cause of the blaze.

Mean­while, Ra­haman and other of­fi­cials told Sun­day Stabroek that the main fo­cus presently is to re­build a fa­cil­ity to ac­com­mo­date the or­phans.

She said she is hop­ing that the rub­ble can be cleared within the next 24 hours and she made an ap­peal for pub­lic as­sis­tance so that the re­build­ing can be done in the next three weeks.

“…At the end of it, what we are try­ing to do is to make sure the scene is clear, re­move the rub­ble and start re­build­ing. The girls need a home to be put back in. Re­mem­ber, they came from bro­ken homes, so right now we are try­ing our very best to find a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion here. We need to have some­thing go­ing to re­build, re­con­struct and set that place up back as soon as pos­si­ble,” Ra­haman’s nephew, who did not want to be named, ex­plained.

In or­der to make this pos­si­ble, he said there is need for pub­lic sup­port and do­na­tions. “We need the pub­lic sup­port, we need donors, we need help, we need phys­i­cal help and that’s the ap­peal we are look­ing for,” he added.

Mean­while, Bonita Mon­taque, CEO of the United Bridge Builders In­cor­po­rated, a Non-Gov­ern­men­tal Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO), was also present and she said, “We need NGOs to be on board, we need ev­ery level, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment. In fact, we need the en­tire Guyana ral­ly­ing around. When a home is shat­tered, it’s not [just] the phys­i­cal it holds but its many lives that are im­pacted.”

She noted that the or­phan­age is a ma­jor fac­tor of the girl’s lives. “…This is the home they know. This is what their lives re­volve around and we want to have them back in their home,” Mon­taque added.

The Sha­heed Boys and Girls or­phan­ages were es­tab­lished in the 1950s as in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide care, home and fa­cil­i­ties for the or­phans, vul­ner­a­ble and des­ti­tute chil­dren of Guyana.

Per­sons who wish to ren­der as­sis­tance can con­tact of­fi­cials from the or­phan­ages on tele­phone num­bers 226-9620, 6291001 and 643-5828.

The burnt re­mains of a sec­tion of the build­ing

The Sha­heed Girls Or­phan­age, lo­cated at Ole­an­der Gar­dens, East Coast De­mer­ara, en­gulfed by flames.

Fire­fight­ers con­tin­ued to douse the smok­ing re­mains of the struc­ture hours af­ter the fire was put out

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