THIRTY families are now homeless after a raging inferno gutted a tenement dwelling and other houses at the intersection of Beeston and Regent streets in downtown Kingston yesterday.
The fire broke out minutes to 11:00 in the morning and quickly spread, destroying several apartments in a building which housed about 25 of the affected families.
Firemen tried hard to contain the blaze, but it spread quickly and razed the buildings.
One resident said several people were trapped on the top floor of the burning building as the flames spread quickly. "The people could not come out as the fire burn down the bottom part of the building and they had to jump from upstairs to safety," said the resident.
Orlando Patterson, who lived in the dwelling, was at work in the nearby community of Tivoli Gardens when he heard that his home was on fire. He said that he dropped what he was doing and rushed home only to see the fire, touching his apartment, which was located on the top floor of the building.
Patterson said that despite the fire he put his life at serious risk in a bid to save whatever belongings he could.
"I was up there throwing down some things as the fire get bigger and start spread. When me look, the fire start spread on rapid and me couldn't come out because the fire start spread under me. I had to jump from upstairs to save my life," Patterson said.
He said he did not manage to save much and all his clothes were destroyed. "Is only this me have left on my foot,' he said as he pointed to a pair of plastic slippers he was wearing.
Robert Aldred, who lives in a small house nearby, said that with the assistance of neighbours he removed several items from his house but complained that his laptop computer and digital video disc (DVD) recorder were stolen. "The same people who say them a help me is the same people who steal my things," a dejected Aldred told the Jamaica Observer.
Meanwhile, onlookers had to run for safety as a section of the shell of the burning building came crashing down.
Last night, Local Government Minister Noel Arscott and the Member of Parliament for West Kingston, Desmond McKenzie, promised the affected residents assistance.
McKenzie, while full of praise for the firefighters, bemoaned the little resources the Fire Department staff was forced to work with. Yesterday's fire, said the MP, was the seventh in less than a month in his constituency.
"I am very concerned and if you look at the records of the Fire Department it will show you that West Kingston is a problematic area when it comes on to fire... If the response of the Fire Department was more speedy, half of what happened here could have been avoided," McKenzie said.
While some residents blamed a mentally challenged woman for setting the fire, others said an electrical short circuit was the cause.
However, acting head of the Kingston and St Andrew Fire Department Maxwell Hinds said it was too early to say what was the cause of the fire.