As smoke clears, May Pen market vendors wonder, ‘Now what?’
As vendors prepare to pick up the pieces after fire ravaged the May Pen Market on Sunday afternoon, councillor for the Denbigh division, Joel Williams, has charged that improved security measures be placed on the agenda.
In an interview with The Gleaner yesterday following a tour of the market, Williams revealed that a probe was under way into reports that the fire might have been caused by sparks flying during an unauthorised welding operation.
“One of the lessons we have learnt today for the municipal corporation, not only in Clarendon, but across the country, we have to now look at how it polices its market … ,” said Williams, who on Sunday lamented the “disaster” that would prevail for vendors three weeks from Christmas.
Market fires have become tragic and expected events on the Jamaican calendar, with disaster displacing hawkers in various towns.
Assistant Commissioner Patrick Gooden of the May Pen Fire Department said the cause of Sunday’s fire was unconfirmed “but it is being actively investigated”, while Orace Barnswell, also of the fire department, said that his team was still carrying out assessments on the extent of the damage and losses.
Gooden shared that the layout of the market was a fire hazard itself, with the proximity of shops allowing the blaze to spread quickly. Access woes also prevented fire trucks from getting to the epicentre of the fire, an issue that will be top of mind when the market is redesigned, The Gleaner has learnt.
NEW VENDING PLANS
Mayor of May Pen, Winston Maragh, who met with stakeholders at the municipal corporation following the tour, said they were conducting an initial assessment and committed to having a proposal ready for new vending plans by Friday.
“There is no decision that can be made as yet, as we are still in touch with the member of parliament (Mike Henry),” he said, adding that the short-term plan is to clean the venue properly and finding a temporary site for those affected.
The mayor disclosed that discussions were ongoing with the prime minister to see how best the Government could assist the more than 60 vendors affected, including tapping emergency funds to get operators back on their feet.
Meanwhile, vendors were still busy combing through debris at their stalls yesterday as they tried to come to grips with the horrific blaze.
Wayne Williams, who has been operating from the market for 25 years, said, “Me nuh know where to start from here. We sell everything – from cosmetic to pots. Me nuh know how to move on.”
President of the May Pen Vendors Association, Lorraine Green-Mason, sought to reassure the fire victims, stating that she was meeting with the relevant agencies to determine what assistance could be provided.
She bemoaned that many of them had taken out loans to invest in stock for the holiday season and watched as it all went up in smoke.
“I want you to know that I am very concerned about your well-being. I promise to be your voice,” she said.
The Jamaica Public Service Company has since disconnected power supply to the area, citing safety concerns owing to burnt and fallen power lines.
Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent of Police Christopher Phillips said that the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force would be maintaining a heavy presence in the market district to deter a spike in crime.
“We have to ensure safety, because there is no electricity. The police will be moving in to help secure the area,” he added.
Describing the fire and its aftermath as terrible, Phillips told a gathering of stakeholders that Main Street would not be a suitable alternative for vending, because of traffic congestion and other factors that would impede the path of emergency vehicles.