FIRE Chief Marlon Gentle has said that investigators are treating a Saturday evening fire at Cummings and Regent streets, Georgetown as a possible arson after receiving reports and suggestive evidence that someone had intentionally started the fire.According to Gentle, the Guyana Fire Service received the report of the fire at about 23:10 hours on Saturday, as the curtains were being drawn on the Diwali celebrations.
Upon arrival at the lot 101 Cummings and Regent streets location, the Fire Chief said, his men were greeted with a smoke-filled building which houses several small businesses. He said firefighters were initially challenged to access the building because of the security mechanisms. However, they were able to make their way in, and put out the fire which had already gutted sections of the building. This occurred after midnight.
“Once we were able to put the fire out, we did some investigation and saw signs of forced entry. There is still an ongoing investigation, but we are not ruling out the possibility of arson,” the Fire Chief said.
Gentle said the scent of a highly flammable substance was also an indication that the fire could have been arson.
Upon visiting the site, it was realised that a hole had been created through the concrete wall at the side of Ram’s Drug Store – one of the three stores entirely gutted by the fire.
Meanwhile, the ‘A’ Division Commander, Assistant Police Commissioner Clifton Hicken, told this publication that eyewitnesses told investigators they had seen a man in a black ‘hood’ and white cap running from the building seconds after an explosion was heard, and minutes before they realised the building was on fire.
While it is not clear in which direction the man had run, a source revealed that police had pursued the man, even firing shots at him, but he had managed to escape.
The commander, among the last to leave the scene — at 03:00 hrs on Sunday — confirmed that persons had heard an explosion, and that the scent of gasoline was pervasive in the building.
The efforts of the Guyana Fire Service, which had a contingent of five trucks battling the fire, were commended by persons who gathered at the scene late Saturday evening.
And the Fire Chief said that the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) had played an integral role in supporting the fire department by increasing water pressure in the area.
Whilst the fire raged, the scene at Cummings and Regent streets, and in contiguous streets, was one of pure chaos, with hordes of onlookers swarming the area trying to get a glimpse of the proceedings as fire engulfed the interior of three of the businesses housed at this location. It was not until the Commander arrived that the area was cordoned off and some amount of order was restored.
This is reportedly the third fire to have assailed this building, owned by former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) officer Oliver Hinckson, within recent years. Speaking to the Guyana Chronicle on Sunday, proprietor of Ram’s Drug Store, Lakeram Oudit, said the fire caught him “off-guard”.
“I was with a friend when he received a call from someone who said the place was being robbed. And while we were rushing down there, we heard it was a fire. When we got there, we saw fire trucks, and I was just hopeful that they could have saved the building,” a distraught Oudit said.
He added that he had left the store at about 16:00hrs, after doing some cleaning for the upcoming Christmas holidays. Later that night, he went out with a friend and his son to view the Diwali motorcade, and it was while returning from the East Coast that his friend received the call about the fire.
The proprietor, who had been operating his business at the location since 1995, said the pharmacy was robbed about a year ago; and while robberies carry losses, they are preferred over fires, which take a business owner back to “zero”.
“There is a saying that thief man carry lil bit, but fire takes all. And this fire took everything… We’re at zero because everything is burnt out,” Oudit said, adding: “We’re in deep trouble”.
According to a 2011 Stabroek News report, there was an arson attempt on the same building. The report stated that a five-gallon bottle of gasoline was found in the building. Two carpets were reportedly soaked with the gasoline. This was also confirmed by Oudit on Sunday when he spoke with this publication.