Pandemonium broke out yesterday afternoon when a massive fire engulfed several bonds located at the Gafoors Houston Complex on the East Bank of Demerara resulting in losses amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hundreds of workers rushed out of their offices and departments for safety when an alarm was raised that a fire had started in “Bond Three” at that location and was spreading quickly throughout other storage bonds.
Reports are that the blaze begun around 15:45hrs and the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) was immediately notified of the incident. Fire fighters arrived promptly at the scene in at least five fire tenders and started their battle with the blaze which continued to spread throughout the various bonds.
After hours of struggling to contain and extinguish the fire, the firemen managed to gain some control over the situation.
However, by then Bonds One to Seven were completely gutted and the fire had destroyed a part of the Gafoors Shopping Mall complex which is attached to the building where the blaze began.
As a result of the valiant and tireless efforts of the GFS along with ranks from the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and security officers attached to the Professional Guard Service (PGS), Bonds Eight to 15 were saved from the fire and all workers and customers who had been in the shopping center when the blaze began were ushered to safety.
Meanwhile, loud explosions could be heard frequently as fire engulfed the roof, air conditioning units and other combustible items which were located near/in the Bonds that were ablaze.
Sattaur Gafoor, owner and CEO of the multi-billion-dollar shopping complex was inside of his office when the fire started.
“I was told that there was fire and I thought it was just an ordinary fire but then when the smoke came into my office I thought it best to come out of the office…it probably started as an electrical fire, in those Bonds they are fully, fully stocked so it would be very difficult to contain the fire because some of the items that we stock are very flammable…Bond Three has the fishing items like polyethalene nets, fishing nets and so on, so being a plastic product it would not be easy to contain the fire,” Gaffoor stated.
According to Mr Gafoor, the building is insured but this is not the number one challenge he will have to face following the fire.
“It is not so much the insurance money, it is the loss of business, the difficulty to get things going back again. It would take me more than one year to rebuild, to get back the stocks, because it is not something you can easily replace, it is not only money. It is the time,” he lamented.
INews was told that more than 500 employees are stationed at the Houston Complex and this tragic fire will have negative effects on each worker regardless of the department he or she works in.
“Everybody will be affected in one way or the other because remember all our records are gone…where do we start? All computers are gone…all gone, how do you sell? No books, nothing at all so we have to shut down our business until we can assess our losses then we can’t at least go in the building until the insurance and police are finished,” Gafoor added.
Meanwhile, Fire Chief Mr. Marlon Gentle told the media that around 15:50hrs the GFS begun to receive numerous telephone calls that there was “massive smoke and fire” at the Gafoors Complex.
Initially, units were dispatched from West Ruimveldt and Central (Georgetown) and when they arrived at the scene of the fire they reported heavy flames and smoke in two of the Bonds and that fire was spreading rapidly.
“We went up to second and third alarm and ramped up all of the available resources in Georgetown that are here right now, we are holding back the fire (right now) but it is a massive fire. It is a bond, there are stores, there are various bonds with different types of combustibles…we have safety concerns also because we cannot access the scene readily…what we are doing now is we are trying to surround the fire to prevent it from going to the wharf or to the other risks that are here…this is going to be a long haul, we have enough equipment on the ground but it is not going to be an easy fix” Gentle told reporters. (Kristen Macklingam)
Following are some scenes from yesterday’s devastating fire: