By Marion V. Ali
Jacqueline Arteaga, 23, a mother of three children under ten years old, died when she reportedly became trapped in a fire that totally destroyed three buildings and partially gutted another on Newtown Barracks, Belize City, early Wednesday morning.
Arteaga, reports say, was an employee at Kimmie’s Bar until one month ago, but continued to rent a room on the upper flat of the establishment.
Arteaga’s friend, Selena Magaña, told the media that Arteaga sometimes stayed with her mother, but on Tuesday night she stayed at her room. Her mother, grieved by the news of her daughter’s death, had to be hospitalized.
The blaze according to fire officials, started at Kimmie’s Bar, operated by Marilyn Moreira and Armando Avilez. From there it spread across to a building that housed Business Computer Systems, owned by Lourdes Smith, then to Pandora’s Cafe, operated by Wilson Cheung,which was partially destroyed. a That building as well as the one affected behind it were owned by Simon Quan and were insured. The owners of the other properties are not yet known.
In a residential building behind Kimmie’s Bar lived Thurman Cabral, 28; Ginellie Cowo, 18; Javier Marin, 21; Cindy Casanova, 22, and James Brown, all of whom were rendered homeless and without any of their belongings. Also homeless are Moreira and Avilez who lived above Kimmie’s Bar.
Martin Castillo said he was the one who alerted the Fire Department about the blaze sometime around 4:15 a.m.
He and others who lost their homes felt that the fire trucks took too long to respond.
They also accused the two teams that responded of taking empty trucks to the fire and that when they did get a water supply, they focused on buildings already on fire rather than trying to save the ones not yet ablaze.
According to Benesford Matura, Operations Officer with the Belize National Fire Service, the call about the fire came in at 4:37 a.m. and by the time the first truck arrived a few minutes later, the entire building that housed Kimmie’s Bar was already engulfed.
With respect to the fire-fighting techniques used, Matura said that in order to prevent the fire from getting any worse, they had to reduce the heat on the burning buildings while also trying to save the others.
According to Matura, the practice at the fire station is that when a call is received of a fire, the two smaller trucks are dispatched to save traffic time to the scene. When they arrive, if additional reinforcement is needed, the teams would call. This practice, he said was followed in this case. He added that during the course of the three-hour-long blaze, the headquarters had to sound the siren to summon more of its personnel to the scene. This brought the total number of fire fighters to 25 who were at the scene at the later stages of the fire. The Ladyville fire truck was also rushed to the scene to fight the blaze in its later stages.
The fire fighters experienced a few setbacks, according to Matura, chief among which was that while they used the sea as their main source of water, their nozzles became clogged with stones. Disconnecting them and clearing the stones away took precious time away from the actual fire fighting.
I n addition, he said , the westerly winds that blew did not help the situation. In addition to these drawbacks, he pointed to the age of the buildings and their close proximity to one another as a third hindrance to their fire fighting performance.
While fire fighters sift through the rubble to pick up clues of the cause of the blaze, Thurman Cabral told The Reporter that he heard a loud commotion coming from the bar just prior to seeing the smoke around 4:30 a.m.
That was strange to him because when the establishment closes on Sunday, it does not open again for business until Wednesday night. The proprietors of the bar have confirmed that they did not open on Tuesday night.
Estimates of the losses have not yet been tabulated.