[UPDATED] 25 homeless after Belmont blaze, MP Young blames fireworks

The clutter of homes destroyed by a fire at Quarry Street, Belmont on Saturday. - Photo by Jeff Mayers
The clutter of homes destroyed by a fire at Quarry Street, Belmont on Saturday. - Photo by Jeff Mayers

At least 25 residents of Quarry Street in Belmont had an unwelcome start to the new year as their homes were destroyed by fire on Saturday.

According to residents, it was just after midnight when a Chinese lantern landed on the roof of one of the four homes on a compound.

While, the official cause of the fire has yet to be determined, the MP for the area, Stuart Young, blamed it on fireworks. “... I was upset, and saddened to learn that it seems like the source of this fire, that has caused over 20 people to now be homeless, was started by a type of firework landing on one of the houses," Young said on his Facebook page.

One woman sustained minor burns attempting to escape while the others were uninjured. In addition to the four destroyed homes, two cars and one light pole were destroyed, and the roof of a nearby home was damaged.

Assistant chief fire officer Marlon Smith told Sunday Newsday the Wrightson Road, San Juan, Belmont, and Four Roads fire stations responded to the fire. Officials said water “was an issue” but the Water and Sewerage Authority supplied water to the appliances which had the blaze under control by 3 am.

He said at the time there was no electricity in the area so an electrical fire was ruled out as the cause, but the fire was still being investigated. It caused about $2 million in losses overall.

Anastacia Grant recalled that she and her husband, Nicholas Greene, were in their home ready to go to bed when she heard someone screaming about a fire. She rushed to the room where her pitbull, Ruby, slept to see the room was already ablaze and she rushed in to get the dog who was unharmed.

Green added that the fire seemed to start out large and when they tried to extinguish it with water it was already too late to do anything.

With tears running down her face, Grant said she lost everything.

TTEC workers install a new lightpole after a fire destroyed four homes, leaving 25 people homeless, on Quarry Street, east Port of Spain early on New Year's Day. - Photo by Jeff Mayers

“I’m doing over some of CXC subjects and I have exams in June but I lost my schoolbooks, computer, documents, clothes, money, everything. I collect public assistance but even that check burnt up because I was saving it to cash after the new year. I now started to get myself back on my feet and now this happened.”

She said she had family in Chaguanas who were willing to let them stay but she had no money to get there and could not take public transport with the dog.

Renwick Douglas, 82, said he was watching television when he heard his neighbours shouting. He looked out his window to see a lot of light.

“When I went outside in the yard and I look, a house was on fire. I had a mind my place would have been affected so I gathered up some clothes that was hanging up and went out the back. The next thing I know, everything was in flames.”

He said he had no idea what he would do or where he would live but he hoped Young, the Port of Spain North/St Ann's West MP, would help.

Brian Mckenzie, a 35-year-old computer engineer and business owner said he was sleeping when his 27-year-old autistic brother alerted him to a fire by his neighbour.

“It all happened so fast that I didn’t have ample time to gather my stuff like my academic certificates like my master's degree, my clothing, cell phone, driver's permit, covid19 vaccination card or any of my relevant information.

“Right now, to tell you the honest truth, I don’t know how I and my brother could pick up and move forward because business and job opportunities were already slow because of the pandemic. But I know God is in control of my life and he always finds a way for me no matter what situation I might be in.”

He said his brother was “not taking it too well” and called on anyone in authority to help him and the others in any way they could.

Clint Baptiste, councillor for East Dry River, told Sunday Newsday he would collect the families’ information and give it to Young who would then pass it on to Minister of Social Development and Family Services, Donna Cox to arrange for social relief.

“We are dealing with some of the churches in the area to get some clothes because a lot of person lost everything. But for now some are staying at St Hilda's Government Primary School while some went by their families. There were also four or five persons from the community who took in some of the affected persons and gave the commitment to let them stay until they catch back themselves.”

He said they were waiting for the official fire report from the Fire Services to complete documents for the residents to get help from the relevant government agencies.

Jason De Silva, a Quarry Street resident who was not personally affected by the fire, called on the government to “do better.” He asked why the nearby fire hydrant was not working and pleaded for the government and NGOs to help a mother of five with an HDC apartment, furnishings, appliances, clothes and books. He said eight people lived in the home and that particular family had spent thousands of dollars renovating their home for Christmas.

Young, who is also the Energy Minister and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, visited the area. On a post on his Facebook page, he said he visited the site and spoke to some of the fire victims and it appeared the fire was started by " a type of firework landing on one of the houses."

He said the incident highlighted how a few people’s irresponsible actions could negatively affect many lives.

In a WhatsApp message to Sunday Newsday, he added, “I took some clothing and I am arranging more. I am also going to try and assist in getting school uniforms and books for the children who lost everything. I have also been in contact with the Minister of Social Development and Family Services (Donna Cox) to request assistance. Lastly, I have arranged with a local parlour owner to assist the families as an interim measure.”

In a phone interview, Cox said ministry staff were only able to contact members of three of the five affected households, but they would try to follow up on the others on Sunday.

They were all offered counselling, which most accepted, and those who were renting were offered rental assistance for three months when they find another place to live.

Residents and some members of affected families discuss a fire that gutted homes on Quarry Street, Belmont, leaving 25 homeless, on Saturday.
- Photo by Jeff Mayers

Cox said the family with children were also eligible for clothing and book grants, one person told the ministry she only needed her louvred windows repaired, and she would ask the Division of Aging to get involved to assist Douglas.

“Tomorrow (Sunday) the staff would be going out to do a complete assessment of the families and hopefully by then they would have gotten on to the two other families. We left messages so I’m hoping they would respond so we will be able to tell what are their immediate needs and see how we can assist them.”

The Summary Offences Act Section 99 says anyone who throws or lights any fireworks within any town, including of Port of Spain, San Fernando, and the borough of Arima, or everywhere within two miles of their boundaries is liable to a $1,000 fine. And Section 100 sets a fine of $400 to anyone who lights or throws any fireworks into or on any street or within 60 feet of the centre of a street.

This is the third recent house fire as on December 23 a fire broke out at a two-storey house at Ackbar Trace, Fyzabad leaving ten people, including five children, homeless; and there was another on December 29 at Faith Avenue, Maturita which nearly killed 64-year-old Gregoria Edwards and her two grandchildren. Edwards and her family were rescued by neighbours.

This story has been updated with additional details. Below is the original story published under the headline, 25 homeless, woman injured after Belmont fire

One woman was injured as she and 24 others were displaced when a fire destroyed four homes in Belmont early Saturday morning.

Fire officials said in addition to the four homes, another house was affected, and two cars and one light pole were also destroyed.

Wrightson Road, San Juan, Belmont, and Four Roads fire stations responded to the fire that occurred just after midnight. However, officials said water “was an issue” but the Water and Sewerage Authority supplied water to the appliances which had the blaze under control by 3 am.

Although the official cause of the fire was not determined, residents believed it was caused by a Chinese lantern landing on the roof of one of the homes.


"[UPDATED] 25 homeless after Belmont blaze, MP Young blames fireworks"

More in this section