In the early morning hours of May 4 a fire broke out in the middle of Sand Banks – a shanty town just outside of Treasure Cay – destroying about half of the homes there and leaving hundreds homeless.
Colin Albury, Fire Chief of Abaco Crash Fire and Rescue (ACFR), said that he received a call from a resident of Sand Banks at 12:46am and he responded with both of his fire trucks and eight men. He also called in Marsh Harbour Volunteer Fire and Rescue to assist.
Mr. Albury said he faced challenges such as the distance between Sand Banks and the nearest hydrant which is about 3.2 miles away as well as persons blocking the access points as they removed items from homes in the area. He noted that a number of fights broke out as well.
He said there were multiple explosions throughout the fire from generators and gas containers as well as propane tanks, making the situation extremely dangerous. The fire was eventually brought under control at 3:15 a.m.
According to reports, a 23 year old resident, Joel Josue, caused the fire in a house in the middle of the burned section. Residents say he dropped a lit kerosene lamp in his room and questioned his mental capacity.
Police held the suspect and on Thursday 8th, May 2014, at 4:45 p.m. Mr. Josue was arraigned for “Damaging and endangering property by the wilful and negligent use of fire.”
The suspect is represented by local Abaco Island Attorney Kara Butler of Butler & Co. He pleaded “not guilty” and was remanded to Sandilands Rehabilitation Center until May 22, 2014.
Melanie Griffith, Minister of Social Services, commended the fire department for extinguishing the blaze and thanked all the other agencies that came together to assist in putting together the initial response to the fire and it’s victims.
She said all agencies are taking steps to see what can be done to make the victims more comfortable and noted that though few had taken advantage, Friendship Mission housed was open to receive persons needing to be temporarily housed and fed.
Mrs. Griffith said that preliminary numbers show that about 120 persons have been affected and that there are some 65 household that have registered. She said they have over 100 adults and over thirty six children and fifteen infants or toddlers
She made a plea for persons affected by fire to come forward so there needs can be dealt with and reassured them that “this is not an immigration matter.”
Ken Dorsett, Minister of Housing and the Environment noted that the fire is “a human tragedy and we are addressing it as such”. He said it is “important for us that we get the right information to understand from an emergency housing perspective what has to be done in the short term.”
In a report published by the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) they reported that there are about 124 homes in Sand Banks, and Mr. Dorsett understands from details at the scene that about 60 homes or structures have been destroyed.
He said “there are environmental concerns at this site – as you can see it is very close to a water reservoir – so DEHS is onsite to provide a complete report to us.” He added that they will have discussion with the persons who own the land to determine the medium to long term solutions.
Mr. Dorsett said he has been working along with the North Abaco Minister of Parliament, Renardo Curry and Central and South Abaco Minister of Parliament Edison Key concerning the shanty towns known as the Mudd and the Pigeon Pea and “what will happen there in the long term.”
He said that “whatever is done in terms of reconstruction will have to be done in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
Bernard Nottage, Minister of National Security, said that when there is a fire like this “we have to have an extensive investigation because we have to be able to prevent it in the future.” He paid his respect to the firemen and all the volunteers who “worked to bring the fire under control because this could have been a tragedy.”
He said that the persons who own property must obey the law and that “we must stop these types of occasions from happening. If they would just obey the laws of the country we wouldn’t have situations like this.”
He said there is an officer coming from Grand Bahama to assist in the investigation and noted that people here are already providing assistance to the victims.
Minister of Parliament for North Abaco, Renardo Curry said that for “far too long we have been dealing with fires like this in Abaco. We want to look at prevention and how we can stop this from happening again.”
He said “we have to look at alternatives to housing that is safe” and that they have plans to have discussions with the owner of this property. “We will look at whether they are allowed to rebuild here or if we find another location.”