THE hopes of scores of vendors who were planning to capitalise on back-to-school sales went up in smoke yesterday when an early morning fire gutted sections of the Pearnel Charles Arcade in downtown Kingston.
The incident — the third of its kind in three years — has triggered investigations by the Jamaica Fire Brigade as well as the police.
"At this time we are not able to determine the cause of the blaze, but the fire department and the police have launched an investigation into the incident," Public Relations Officer for the Jamaica Fire Brigade Emilio Ebanks said.
The senior officer said he was not ruling out the possibility of arson and added that the fire department would be increasing inspections of the facility to ensure that vendors were adhering to fire safety guidelines.
"This is a worrying trend," he said. "This is not the first time that the facility has been destroyed by fire and this cannot continue."
Yesterday, as firefighters laboured to put out the blaze, scores of vendors wept openly even as they scrambled to save what was left of their goods.
"This cannot continue," wailed Jacqueline Sang. "This is the third time in three years that the market burn down. Wi need the authorities to get to the bottom of this," said Jacqueline Sang.
"Right now I lose everything. All of my preparation that I was carrying out for back-to-school gone down the drain," she said.
Denise, another vendor, shared similar sentiments.
"It really hard for people to be working and when you look dem just lose all that dem work for right in the time for back-to-school," she said.
Another vendor, Carlos Whitehorn, was left worried about how he would repay money he had borrowed to purchase his goods.
"Everyting destroyed. Not even a pair a shoes nuh save," said the distraught young man.
Officials did not provide any estimates for the losses, but it is believed to be in the millions.
In the midst of the disaster, meanwhile, the police were hard-pressed to monitor the area as looters were on the prowl, seeking to capitalise on the vendors' misfortune.
The Fire Brigade reported receiving reports about the fire around 6:30 am.