Tragedy, heartbreak and fury at scene of devastating Greenbay fire

Rowan ‘Idris’ White said he and his two sons had lost everything they own (Photo by Gemma Handy)
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By Gemma Handy

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Shell-shocked residents gathered at the scene of a devastating fire in Greenbay yesterday which is believed to have killed one resident and destroyed four homes.

Amid the expanse of scorched rubble, salvaged pieces of galvanised steel shielded a body from view – a crude makeshift coffin while emergency services waited for undertakers to arrive.

Authorities are yet to confirm the remains are human; fire chiefs told Observer that “bones” had been discovered with forensic analysis still pending.

But residents think they are those of their neighbour – a man in his 40s they described as reserved – who hasn’t been seen since the blaze broke out on Monday morning.

For Rowan ‘Idris’ White, the anguish on his two sons’ faces was worse than losing all of his worldly possessions.

Rowan ‘Idris’ White said he and his two sons had lost everything they own (Photo by Gemma Handy)

White, a landscaper at the Mill Reef Club, said he had been preparing to leave the house with the children, aged 15 and 10, when he saw smoke through his bedroom window.

“I ran outside and let everyone know a house catch on fire. I went around the front and start to throw water but the fire escalate so big, so quickly, and we cannot do nothing but let it burn,” he told Observer.

“The fire catch one house up top first, then it catch mine. That one house catch all four houses.”

White, who said he had lived there for more years than he could remember, said his children had sobbed as they watched the blaze devour their home.

“I live with me two son. They cry, cry – everything burn up in me house,” he recounted.

Remains found among the rubble were shielded from view under pieces of galvanised steel (Photo by Gemma Handy)

“That’s the worst thing – me kids don’t feel good and that burns me heart. Them me live for, me live for me kids. When they feel pain, me can’t settle.”

Along with fumes and the acrid smell of burnt steel, frustration and anger also hung in the air yesterday.

Several residents spoke of an agonising wait for firefighters to arrive. And when they did, the first truck on the scene with limited water supply was said to be little match for the fury of the flames.

White claimed had firefighters arrived more promptly, the other three homes might have been saved.

“We saw the fire early enough, we call fire truck and they take so long to come and then it’s one likkle fire truck, the smallest fire truck,” he said.

“What I am going to do now, I don’t know. Where I am going to sleep, I don’t know. Where me kids going to sleep, me don’t know.”

White and his sons are just three of the 16 residents left homeless by the disaster.

His neighbour Denzil James told Observer his “whole world” was inside the house he shared with his wife and four children. He had built the property himself and lived in it for 23 years.

James, who works for Treasure Island Cruises, said he had been at work when his daughter called to tell him their home was ablaze.

He rushed back to find the house engulfed in flames.

“I don’t know what I will do now,” he said sadly. “I am waiting to consult with my wife.”

Beyond the heartache and anger, a sense of community spirit also prevailed yesterday.

Fire trucks from St John’s, Coolidge and All Saints attended the scene (Photo by Gemma Handy)

Residents put up a valiant effort to stem the inferno, said Howard Gore who lives close by.

“It’s very unfortunate what took place. But we have to give kudos to the community members because they worked tirelessly trying to extinguish the blaze before the fire truck came,” he explained.

“But they were up against two major factors – limited amount of water and high winds, so that is what helped it to erupt.

“Had it not been for these community members more houses would have been burnt. I would just like to encourage the general public to continue to work together in times of disaster,” Gore added.

Fire Department spokesman, Inspector Lestor Bagot, told Observer he was looking into allegations that firefighters had arrived too late and with sparse water.

“But I can confirm two fire tenders from St John’s attended, along with one from Coolidge Fire Station and one from All Saints Fire Station,” he said.

Inspector Bagot also praised two private water companies owned by Hugh Christian and Juan Valdez that sent trucks to help.

“The Fire Brigade wishes to thank Mr Christian and Mr Valdez for their continued support in assisting with water at the scenes of fire. We are very appreciative,” he added.

Investigations into the cause of the blaze remain underway.

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