Women's Issues In Guyana

Woman, two grandchildren perish in Land of Canaan fire

…survivor nursing burns in GPHC
Kaieteur News – April 2, 2008

An elderly woman and her two grandchildren perished early yesterday morning after a mystery fire razed their two-bedroom home at Lot Six, Land of Canaan Old Road, East Bank Demerara.

But one other occupant escaped death by jumping from an upstairs window.

Some neighbours are speculating arson as the wooden structure was consumed in a matter of minutes, even as some people formed a bucket brigade and helplessly listened to the screams of the trapped occupants.

There are reports that a drug addict, who had broken into the bottom flat on at least two occasions, had started the fire. Dead are Basmat Arjune, 65; Melvina Singh, aged nine; and her brother, five-year-old Shamar John Mc Pherson. Their cousin, 25-year-old Suresh Moreno, called ‘Tony’, suffered burns to his back and arms after he tried to save the children and their grandmother. He is being treated at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) Burns Unit.  

A fourth grandchild, seven-year-old Shemica Mc Pherson, slept at her paternal grandmother’s home when the fire occurred. Her paternal grandmother had effused to send her home because of a family problem with the now dead Basmat.

From some reports, the fire broke out in the small bottom flat, in which the children and their mother, Jean Moreno, lived. The children were sent to stay with their grandmother in the upper flat on Monday night because their mother had to go to work at the Bowling Alley, Industrial Site that night. She was at work at the time.

The occupants have been without electricity for at least a week, and some have also suggested that a lighted candle or lamp may have caused the fire. All the victims were burnt beyond recognition and firefighters and police ranks who scoured the debris had difficulty locating all the bodies. They removed what they could but other body parts, including a burnt leg from a child, remained at the site. The relatives picked these up and placed them in a jute bag.

Weeping as he recalled his ordeal, survivor Suresh Moreno said that he awoke to find his bedroom engulfed in thick smoke.
Moreno said that he pressed a piece of cloth to his nostrils and immediately went to the room in which his grandmother and children were sleeping. He said that he felt around in the smoke-filled house and eventually touched one of the children, but failed to locate the others. Carrying the child, believed to be Melvina, Moreno said that he then opened the front door.

However, the youth said that when he opened the door, a blast of heat knocked him off his feet. Now badly burned on his back and arms, Moreno said he was forced to save himself by jumping to safety from a nearby window. In the end, he could only stand outside and watch the flames consume the house with his grandmother and relatives inside.

“I should have tried more hard to save my grandmother,” he sobbed. “I should take the burns and try to save her.” Moreno also said that he repeatedly dialed 911 in an attempt to summon the Guyana Fire Service but got no response.

When the flames subsided the evidence was that the little boy died without waking up. The elder woman and Melvina awoke, however, because neighbours heard their screams. Asked about reports that a drug addict from the community might have sneaked into the bottom flat and started the fire, Moreno said that a drug addict had indeed broken into his aunt’s flat on two occasions and had stolen some of her valuables.

Juliet Moreno, a daughter of the dead woman, and who occupies a house at the back of the family property, said that they only became aware of the disaster by chance. One of the woman’s daughters told Kaieteur News that she awoke to use the washroom when she happened to glance across at her grandmother’s property and realized that the house was on fire.

Juliet Moreno said that after being alerted by her daughter, her two sons-in-law and other residents attempted to douse the flames with buckets of water, while trying to enter the building. However, the front stairs, which was the only entrance to the house, collapsed.

Jean Moreno, whose mother and two children perished in the fire, recalled that she had already completed her stint at work when she received a call from the father of her children, Lindon McPherson, that her home was on fire. She said that she was in a taxi heading home.

She said that she asked him if everything was alright with the occupants but got no reply from him. She immediately rushed home only to have her worst fears confirmed. A sobbing Jean Moreno explained that the front windows in the upper flat were covered in mesh and her mother’s bedroom window had wooden bars.

Ms. Moreno, who said she lost all her valuables in the fire, refuted suggestions that a lighted candle or lamp in her flat could have caused the tragedy. According to the woman, she had not cooked or lighted any candles that night. Residents said that the fire started shortly after midnight.

A nearby home was scorched and neighbors also claimed that they were forced to call the Timehri Police Station several times as the numbers were engaged. It was also reported that the fire tender came with a supply of water that ran out within minutes. The fire tender was forced to pump from the Land of Canaan five-door sluice.

The dead woman’s other children learnt of the news at different times yesterday. Davenand came from lower East Bank Demerara while the woman’s brother, Arjune, came from Mon Repos. By mid-morning neighbours were erecting a tent at the site of the fire, perhaps to hold a wake.


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