Massive Portland fire leaves hundreds jobless
Port Antonio, Portland
It took three fire units and five water trucks to contain an enormous fire that left three commercial buildings in ruin while rendering hundreds of people jobless in Port Antonio, Portland, yesterday.
The fire, which started around 8 a.m. inside the Musgrave Market in the parish capital, Port Antonio, quickly spread throughout the market space, along West Street- destroying in its path dozens of stalls containing ground provision, craft items, items of clothing, footwear, electrical appliances, and a variety of meats.
Firefighters, who arrived on the scene in quick time, struggled to contain the raging inferno, which started to spread rapidly as wooden stalls, clothes, plastic containers, and footwear were quickly consumed, further fuelling the blaze.
Despite the efforts of two fire units from the Port Antonio fire station, an additional unit from Buff Bay, some 18 miles away, had to be called in to assist with fighting the fire as it threatened two nearby buildings – Kamals Supermarket and Cambio – and Portland Jewelers furniture and appliance store.
“It was a collaborative effort that took place during more than six hours of trying to contain the massive fire,” said Port Antonio Mayor Paul Thompson.
“At least five water trucks, including one from the Portland Municipal Corporation, one each from the office of the member of Parliament in East and West Portland, and three privately owned water trucks assisted during the effort to contain the fire. The Musgrave Market suffered more than 75 per cent in total, which is a massive loss.
“We now have to make a quick assessment on Monday to determine the extent of the damage caused by the fire, which, from all indication, is significant. In total, more than 100 people from the supermarket and the appliance store are now out of a job, and this will have serious implications as it relates to their employment. We have not yet recovered from COVID-19, and this disaster has, basically, crippled the livelihood of many who might not be able to provide for their family,” Thompson added.
The firefighting effort was hampered by a shortage of water due to a scheduled water lock-off by the National Water Commission as a result of drought conditions. Water was later restored to the Port Antonio area as the fire continued to rage.
The entirety of Kamals supermarket and its stock was reduced to ashes while hundreds of Portlanders stood by, watching in shock as one of their favourite shopping facilities was engulfed by flames despite the efforts from firefighters and other volunteers to contain the blaze.
It was the nearby Portland Jewelers furniture and appliance store that caught fire next as a result of the blaze from the nearby Musgrave Market, resulting in its part board and concrete structure becoming engulfed. That fire would spread quickly to Kamals, which is almost adjoining, with its part board and concrete structure burning like paper.
Although the operators of Portland Jewelers managed to salvage a few items, including stoves, sound-system boxes, fans, television sets, radios, and wooden furniture, the loss was tremendous as there are reports that a substantial amount of money had been left inside the store vault overnight by its owners.
More than 150 persons, comprising craft vendors, butchers, clothes and footwear higglers, book sellers, fruit vendors, ground provision higglers, food stall operators, fish vendors, and herbal stall operators have been affected directly or indirectly by the massive fire.
The day was not without incident as the police were forced to arrest at least four individuals for attempting to loot some of the salvaged items even though others managed to grab goods and flee, eluding the lawmen.
Among the looters was a man seen by The Gleaner making a hasty retreat along William Street, carrying a smart television set.
The origin of the fire is not yet known, but up to 4:30 p.m. yesterday, firefighter were still trying to contain the blaze in a massive storeroom area at Kamals, which is located to the back of that building. They were also sifting through the rubble inside the supermarket and on the inside of the Portland Jewelers furniture and appliance store.
In the meantime, firefighters have hinted that damage caused by the fire to the three properties – Kamals, the Musgrave Market, and Portland Jewelers - could run into billions of dollars.