EARLY Monday morning when some residents of central Kingston, in an area called Spoilers, were getting ready to start their day, a fire took them by surprise, gutting multiple adjoining premises on Smith Lane and James Street and leaving 23 adults and 12 children homeless.
Most of those affected said it was difficult to save anything inside their houses because as soon as the fire broke out the sound of barking guns forced them to take cover to preserve their lives.
Among the fire victims who lost all their belongings was 72-year-old Junior Dorrant.
"I was fixing up my place to make myself comfortable, enuh, and now di place bun dung," he said, pointing to a stack of blocks he had purchased to carry out improvements to his house at 15 James Street.
"Mi lose mi phone, ID and everything. When di fire started, I was in my house. When mi come fi look, mi haffi tek cover because too much gunshot a fire. A woman come a mi gate a call mi and she did haffi run from di gate because a pure shot did a blaze with the fire. A mi fridge this weh mi draw out a di house, enuh, and because of the heat, mi haffi drop it. See it deh, it still bun up," Dorrant said, pointing to a burnt refrigerator.
One woman, who wasn't affected by the fire but was clearly sympathetic, said she tried to help the elderly man but had to "run back" into her house because of the sounds of bullets whistling through the air.
"It was a wicked fire. Look how di tree dem bun up. The fire start 'round a Smith Lane and spread come around here," the woman said.
A teary-eyed Paulette Finlayson was in shock and disbelief. Many of the things she had worked hard to purchase so she could make herself comfortable at home turned to ashes. She, too, told the Jamaica Observer that when she ran outside in search of haven, she encountered the gunfire and had to take cover immediately.
"It was after 4:00 am. Somebody come knock me up and seh 'fire' and by the time mi run out a pure gunshot and mi haffi run eeen back. After that the fire start come over more and more on my side, because a pure old board. I had to take cover from gunshots. Mi couldn't even save anything. This socks you see me in, that is all dem lef pon mi feet," she said.
"About seven different set of families live in this yard and that is roughly 20 people. Mi want someweh fi live right now. Mi need some shoes. Me is a girl weh buy my things dem, enuh. Mi have some brand-new slippers weh mi not even wear, enuh, like mi Bridget sandals. A mussi two time mi wear it and a $18,000 for it. Mi washing machine bun up, mi gas stove bun up, mi whatnot bun up, mi dresser bun up, everything bun up. My son not even save a shoes pon him foot, because when mi hear di shot dem we haffi run een," she explained.
One man, who asked that his name not be used, demanded that something be done to put a stop to circumstances that give rise to tragedies like the one he experienced Monday. He believes the fire was deliberately set, although the Jamaica Fire Brigade is still investigating to ascertain the cause.
"Dem thing yah a happen 'round yah so long time and nobody nah help the community fi mek dem thing yah stop. Nobody nah step een and mek it done. Dem just a help down the community to make it get worse and worse. People just a get bun out and a dead."
According to Emilio Ebanks, public relations officer of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, a call came in at 4:57 am that houses on Smith Lane and James Street were on fire.
"When we arrived we saw houses on fire at 26 to 30 Smith Lane and just behind those houses, number 15 and 17 on James Street, were also on fire. Five units in total responded to the situation. There were no injuries or deaths reported and we have investigators now on the scene trying to ascertain the cause of the fire. We don't have the cost of the damage yet," Ebanks told the Observer in the afternoon.
Donovan Williams, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston Central, later toured the scene, sympathising with residents and pledging financial and other assistance.
"As an MP my job is to assist the people and get them back on their feet. What we normally do is analyse what happened and deploy the agencies of government to assist the people," he said. "In respect of the cause of the fire, that is a job for the police and the fire brigade."