Sun | May 31, 2020

Hell of A day - Valiant staff team up with firefighters to save ‘bread and butter’ as blazes scorch capital city

Published:Tuesday | February 12, 2019 | 12:00 AM
At Top: A female firefighter battles a huge blaze at Jamaica Packaging Industries on Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston yesterday. Traffic came to a standstill along the busy thoroughfare as onlookers gathered to watch scores of firefighters working to put out the blaze.

Amid a crescendo of crackling and soot-choked air, firefighters battled bravely as a section of Jamaica Packaging Industries (JPI) on Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston, was transformed into a furnace yesterday, millions of dollars worth of stock going up in smoke.

But even in the midst of tragedy, workers at the company – and even those from the nearby Petrojam oil refinery – banded together, rallying with buckets of water and dousing rolls of paper in a desperate bid to stop the blaze from spreading.

The fire started some time after 3 p.m. yesterday and spread rapidly as the blustery winds whipped the flames out of control. It is theorised that the blaze began when garbage, lit in an abandoned car sent sparks flying.

Fifty-five firefighters were deployed to the 154 Marcus Garvey Drive premises, said Jamaica Fire Brigade Public Relations Officer Emeleo Ebanks, and gusty winds turned the bales of paper stacked and stored outside the packaging facility into ready fuel.

Marcus Garvey Drive, a main corridor from the city into Portmore and Spanish Town, was clogged with traffic for hours up to 9 p.m., as police personnel tried to divert motorists to alternative routes.

Joy Roberts Williams, manager at JPI, manufacturers of cardboard boxes, told The Gleaner that the majority of the paper used in production was spared.

“We had a lot of paper, about 25-30 per cent over there.

“It’s quite disheartening. It started behind us, and because of the wind, debris blew over and caught the paper we had over there on fire. The firefighters are here, but it’s a big challenge because of the wind,” Williams lamented.

She praised the staff for their gutsy fight, steely determination and resistance etched on their faces.

“But my staff is also working to keep the fire from spreading further. This is their bread and butter,” Williams said.

The JPI manager toldThe Gleaner that despite the devastation, she was optimistic about resuming operations in days.

“One thing I can say for sure is that production continues. Our main paper areas, those were not impacted,” said Williams. “We not going to have any production tomorrow. Most likely, we’ll restart operations on Wednesday. Our operation, our production plant, our warehouse is also fine.”

One worker at the packaging plant said employees were determined to fight fire with fire – hauling buckets and clambering up to higher positions from which to take pre-emptive action – soaking both stock and the ground.

“Mi deh pan a corridor when mi just see breeze a blow over fire, den mi hear people a bawl seh, ‘Fire!’. By time wi look, fire start spread fast, so right now mi just a try help mek it nuh spread further,” the worker said.

Earlier, the St Andrew South police launched an investigation into the illegal dumping of gasolene at an open lot off Spanish Town Road in Kingston, which erupted in flames, possibly from a charcoal-burning operation.

The police, according to Assistant Superintendent Andrew Johnson of the Hunts Bay Police Station, had been monitoring the abandoned lot because of previous issues at the location.

“These are breaches under the various environmental laws that are prosecutable. We will be working with National Environment and Planning Agency and the other agencies to see how best we can do some enforcement,” Johnson stated.

And as soon as the firefighters got that inferno under control, reports had filtered through that a seven-bedroom house off Hyde Park Road in the Waltham Park Road area of the capital was ablaze.

Two units from the York Park and Rollington Town fire stations responded to the blaze. While there were no injuries to the occupants – three adults and a child – are now homeless.