PORT ANTONIO, Portland — The fire department has put the estimated damage at $40 million, but for the people affected by Saturday’s early morning blaze at the old railway building in Port Antonio they have lost so much more.
The heritage site housed several business places, among them the Portland Gallery and a youth centre. It also provided office space for Portland AIDS committee and the parish’s marching band.
“This is a major loss. The impact is not only in Portland but also the surrounding parishes of St Thomas and St Mary as a number of youths… used the centre,” said Dwayne Brown.
He heads the Youth Information Centre that has been located on the building since 2007.
“Activities were scaled down due to the pandemic and we were to open soon; possibly this month. The personnel were interviewed and in place. We lost some 30 computers, the server room, air conditioners, musical instruments, sporting equipment such as football, netball, table tennis, basketball, among others. A number of youths used the centre for printing, completing SBAs [school-based assessments] as this was one of our major centres. At this time we do not know the estimated damage but it is major,” he added.
The fire has also left Mark Bell reeling. He made his living from creating and selling works of art sold by Portland Fine Arts.
“I am at a loss; I don’t know what to say. A lot of material got burnt up. My livelihood and materials still in there burning. I don’t know where to go now as we have been here from day one and everybody across Portland know us here,” he said. “We have been operating here from about 2004/2005. That’s around when I came and the others [were here] from 2003. We have produced art, artists, and held exhibitions here.”
The building also housed his office and he has lost his computers along with the tools of his trade.
“This is a massive loss. We have to focus, try and put ourselves together as this is a big [blow] for us. About seven of us operate from here, along with some young artists, and we take work from other persons and do also. This is the main art gallery in Portland and persons from all over come here. [But], we’ll recover by God’s help,” he said.
Artist Zachariah Ireland estimated that they had lost millions in the blaze that razed the venue which also doubled as a learning centre for art students.
“Building, material, everything gone up in smoke. Only a few stuff was saved. Equipment, painting, paint, tools, brush, canvas, frames everything [was lost],” he said. “To restart we need a location, equipment and material. We have been here some 14 to 16 years.”
The fire has been a huge setback for the artists. Some projects already created will have to be reproduced at a time when their tools and material have gone up in flames.
“Yesterday I went to town (Kingston) and buy a portion a material fi Louis Culture as he has a show coming up and I am to do some prints for him. Everything lost. All the materials I purchased lost and others that I had before. It is a huge loss,” Ireland lamented. “I lost work that was completed and projects working on. I have a painting that I did for Norwich School and was correcting something… It burn up and I have to go do it back again. This is something that I’ve been paid for already; projects that I soon finish, lost; nuff banners and painting lost.”
No one was hurt in the three-alarm fire. Two firefighting teams responded from Port Antonio and one from Buff Bay.
“This is an icon in Port Antonio, a heritage building and landmark. From what I have seen the fire started at the top where there was a floral shop and went down and it is a very serious loss,” said the Jamaica Railway Corporation’s chief security officer, Huntley Cameron, who visited the scene.
Jamaica Fire Brigade public relations officer, Senior Deputy Superintendent Emeleo Ebanks, said the call came in at 4:30 am and a team responded immediately. They had been on their way from the scene of another fire in Port Antonio.
“The cause of the fire is not yet known; however, the damage done is estimated at $40 million and the risk is $60 million. Our investigation continues,” he said of the blaze at the old railway building.