Wed | Feb 22, 2017

Burnout: My family yard is a firetrap!

Published:Sunday | April 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Anxious residents watch as fire fighters tackle a blaze on Paisley Road in March.
Fire fighters tackling a blaze on Paisley Road in March.
Paisley Road residents scarmble to save what they could as fire fighters fought a blaze in their community in March.
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Housing woes in several inner-city communities have forced scores of persons to live in board houses on premises which could ignite in a minute. Today, The Sunday Gleaner begins a series looking at some of those communities.

It is a story reported so often that it has become a recurring nightmare - 'fire at a premises leaves dozens homeless in an inner-city community'.

Residents of Paisley Road, metres from the Blood Bank in west Kingston, lived this nightmare earlier this year. In March, 13 families were left homeless after a blaze started in a tenement yard.

"I live in this area 52 years now. Is ghetto area, it nuh so comfortable," said 81-year-old Metebell McLeod, who is currently sheltering her daughter, grandchildren and great grand-children following the fire which left them homeless.

According to McLeod, her daughter was raised at nearby Studley Park Road, but with the premises on Paisley Road available, she joined several other families who lived there, most in board structures.

"Is a family yard, everybody inside there is family. Is one place with different apartments," said McLeod, as she pointed to rows of concrete steps which led into the different houses on the premises.

McLeod's granddaughter, Shantell Williams, who is in her early 20s, was one of the persons living at the premises where the fire started. Before the blaze, she had no plans of moving from the area, opting instead to upgrade her house in whatever manner she could.

"True we no have nowhere else fi go we did a fix it up; buy material and fix up. But everything bun up, material, baby clothes, furniture, everything bun up," said Williams.

According to Williams, the fire started after someone lit a garbage pile at the rear of the premises.

"A man who live a the back a the house light the fire and claim that it out. But it never out. It catch sponge and spread go up to the ceiling and everywhere," said Williams, gesticulating wildly while she demonstrated the magnitude of the fire which burned for hours and required several firefighters to put out.

Everal Collins, 58, was in the bathroom when he heard the first shouts of "fire" on that fateful March morning and had to move his belongings from his house next door as a precaution. Luckily, his premises was spared.

A former resident of nearby Jones Town, Collins is accustomed to the 'livity' in these parts.

"Most of the houses here are family houses, the mother live deh and son live deh and so on," said Collins.

"This a family yard, and this come in like is a family yard too," added Collins, as he pointed to another premises along the road.

That is a common trend in many inner-city communities across the island, generations of relatives living together in houses strung with illegal electricity connections and other fire hazards in one premises.

In most cases, it starts with one person moving to Kingston from a rural community and setting up a wooden shack on an open lot. That person's family expands and as the children become adults they build houses close to the main structure.

 

tenement yard

 

The cycle continues as the children then have children of their own who also build houses, usually one-bedroom board structures, on the premises. Sometimes other family members also move into the premises.

Over time, the open lot morphs into a tenement yard one main building with dozens of persons living in houses with electrical connections set up by persons with little or no training and ready to ignite at a minute's notice.

On Paisley Road, none of the occupants of the premises where the fire raged could say who owns the premises. They don't pay rent or mortgage, and for most, the concept of paying an electricity or water bill is foreign.

Paisley Road is a sample of many communities across the island, and as usual, residents are wary of the media except when they stage demonstrations.

One woman, who was among a group gambling inside a tenement yard during the mid-morning visit by our news team, warned a friend not to speak to The Sunday Gleaner. "The next ting you see will be JPS a come run in pon we round yah," she declared.