–Imam estimates millions of dollars in losses
THE third and second storeys of a masjid at Sister’s Village, on the West Bank of Demerara (EBD), were destroyed by a fire of unknown origin on Tuesday morning, leaving the trustees of the religious facility counting losses which are estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
The fire at the Nuurul Islaam Sunnatul Jamaat is said to have started at approximately 08:00 hours, in a section of the third storey of the masjid. Only one person was in the building at the time of the fire, and was luckily able to get out of the building safely before the entire flat became engulfed in flames.
Imam of the masjid, Maulana Haseed, estimates the losses to be approximately $7 million, as the fire comes just months after the masjid underwent approximately $6 million worth of renovations.
“We put on the other storey and about six months ago it was completed. We did the renovations to make the sisters comfortable to pray and as well, we have some part time teaching that goes on, in Islamic learning,” he said.
Speaking with this publication at the scene of the fire, Haseed, who lives a short distance away from the masjid, said that he was at home at the time when an alarm was raised notifying the community members of the fire.
“I heard someone screaming, fire! When I came out, the whole third floor was just black smoke, with fire burning inside coming out,” Haseed said as he recounted the scene.
A fire tender from the La Grange Fire Station arrived on the scene shortly after the alarm was raised, but the fire had already gutted most of the third and second floors. Other fire tenders from the West Ruimveldt and Leonora fire stations were also dispatched to the scene.
Othesha Persaud, who lives a short distance away from the masjid, recalled the scene that unfolded, noting that she had feared that her house would have also been destroyed.
But outside of some damage incurred as a result of her house being soaked to guard against the fire, she did not sustain major losses.
“I was downstairs in the house and my son was upstairs sleeping. I just hear somebody holler fire ah masjid, so me run out and see this big fire coming from the front of the masjid, coming to the back. Me just get panic and didn’t know what to do because this fire just coming and coming. But we run and took off the main switch,” a visibly shaken Persaud related.
She commended her neighbours for their support in assisting her to soak the wall of her house, which was just a few feet away from the burning building.
“The neighbors them come… if they didn’t come, my house did done with. They soak the house. It’s a good thing we had water, that was what saved this house,” Persaud said.
Imam Haseed reasoned that the fire might have spread quickly due to the highly combustible PVC ceiling and prayer mats that were on the floor.
The imam speculated that the fire was most likely due to electrical issues, since the section of the building where the fire started was a prayer room that did not have any appliance or items except for a fan and prayer mats.
“I think it’s concerning current [electricity] because we don’t have anything up there except a fan, and the fire started from the PVC ceiling upstairs. It recently finished building properly, it was certified and everything,” Haseed said.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL), Bharrat Dindyal, was present at the scene meeting with the religious officials.
Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar, also visited the scene to offer words to the religious leaders.
Also present at the scene was Divisional Officer at the Guyana Fire Service, Clive McDonald, who concurred that the initial observations seemed to point to the cause of the fire being electrical in origin. Investigations are, however, ongoing to identify the exact cause.
“Based on investigations of the fire load, there isn’t much fire load so we are looking in that direction but we are still doing investigations as relates to that,” McDonald related.
The Jamaat was first established in 1960, and was rebuilt in 2016, before having undergone the recent renovations. The place of worship serves approximately 80 Muslim households in that area.
Notwithstanding the third and second storeys being entirely destroyed, a section of the building was saved and will be used even as the officials of the masjid look towards rebuilding.
“The masjid serves the community so we will have to rebuild. The masjid for prayer [at the front of the compound] was saved, so that will still function. As Muslims we pray five times per day so that will be carried on,” Haseed said.