Fire vic­tim says he lost ev­ery­thing . . . even his plas­tic den­tures, top and bot­tom!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - Joshua St. Aimee

While most Saint Lu­cians were pre­par­ing on Mon­day to usher in the New Year, an all too com­mon­place dis­as­ter struck res­i­dents in the com­mu­nity of Rose Hill, Cas­tries. Ini­tial re­ports sug­gest the fire started in a house shortly af­ter mid­night while the oc­cu­pant was still at work, and quickly spread. Be­fore long the flames had en­gulfed six other homes, mere feet from each other. Scores of well-mean­ing cit­i­zens joined the fire ser­vice crew in their ef­forts to bring the fire un­der con­trol. Alas, without suc­cess. It fi­nally burned it­self out at great ex­pense to sev­eral fam­i­lies, most of them al­ready in dire straits.

Sixty-five-year-old Omer St. Rose has lived in Rose Hill for thirty years. His fam­ily owned three of the seven houses quickly brought down by the vo­ra­cious flames. He shared a two-storey house with his sis­ter and broth­erin-law; his nephew oc­cu­pied an­other. The third had been only re­cently re­fur­bished, soon to be ad­ver­tised for rent.

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, a still vis­i­bly shaken St. Rose re­counted his ex­pe­ri­ence. He had been watch­ing tele­vi­sion for most of the evening and de­cided around 11.30 to turn in for the night. He woke up with a start, to bang­ing noises from the floor above him; his rel­a­tives were try­ing to alert him to the dan­ger.

"I got up and I saw a big light," said St. Rose. "Then I opened my front door and re­al­ized the house clos­est to mine was on fire. I had no choice but to get out as fast as I could. There was no time to save any­thing. I could not get back in­side.”

A self-em­ployed artist, St. Omer said ev­ery­thing he owned was swal­lowed up by the fire in a mat­ter of min­utes. Close to tears, he ex­plained: "The fire took all my tools, all my clothes, ev­ery­thing—even my den­tures, both up and down. All of that burn. All I saved were the clothes I had on: a tee shirt and box­ers. Some­one gave me some short pants to put on." By his ac­count­ing, he lost $40,000 in a mat­ter of min­utes.

St. Rose claims that in times past his fam­ily had warned the own­ers of other struc­tures to break them down. "My brother used to al­ways tell them, ‘Those old houses y'all have there, y'all should come and put them down.' If one of them wasn't there my house wouldn't burn; my mother's house wouldn't burn."

He said his sis­ter and her hus­band were forced to sleep at his brother's house in Carel­lie, Cas­tries and will stay there un­til they de­cide their next move. All ef­forts to con­tact other vic­tims proved fu­tile.

St. Rose's daugh­ter, Tassa Jean, vis­ited the com­mu­nity from Pi­aye af­ter re­ceiv­ing the heart-wrench­ing call from a rel­a­tive. She is hope­ful that if and when the houses are re­built, greater care will be taken. "I don't think they should build in the same man­ner as be­fore,” she said. “I know ev­ery­body's look­ing for their own lit­tle space, and for that rea­son they may not agree with me, but then there are lessons to be learned from the fire."

She added: "Ev­ery­thing is re­place­able. I'm just happy there was no loss of life and that is what we need to be grate­ful for. I'm very thank­ful that ev­ery­one was able to leave this place phys­i­cally un­harmed."

LUCELEC work­ers were at the scene on Tues­day to cut off dam­aged elec­tric­ity lines, and en­sure it was safe to re­store the power sup­ply to other houses in the area. Also on hand was Pas­tor Richard Spencer of the Church of the Nazarene, lo­cated in the nearby com­mu­nity of En­tre­pot. He said that fol­low­ing their Old Year's Night church ser­vice, mem­bers saw the flames and al­though none of the af­fected per­sons were as­so­ci­ated with his church, mem­bers nev­er­the­less stood ready to pro­vide sup­port. "I'm here to do an as­sess­ment and then go back to my board and see how we can re­spond as a church to this tragedy that has struck this com­mu­nity," said Pas­tor Spencer. The sup­port he had in mind in­cluded the pro­vi­sion of meals, goods, fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, coun­selling ser­vices, and re­pair teams.

The prime min­is­ter's Se­nior Com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Nicole McDonald on Thurs­day said that the govern­ment stands ready to as­sist the fam­i­lies as much as pos­si­ble, and that the Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices has be­gun as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion. McDonald says that the ab­sence of a dis­tress fund does not mean in any way that govern­ment will not as­sist Saint Lu­cians in emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

Deputy Fire Chief Ge­orge Vic­torin said on Thurs­day that in­ves­ti­ga­tions are on­go­ing into the cause of the fire and it may be “two to three weeks” be­fore any­thing use­ful is known!

A fire shortly af­ter the New Year fire­works early Tues­day, all but wiped out the com­mu­nity of Rose Hill in Cas­tries. Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cause.

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