The Grenada Revolution Online

Fires

A fire broke out in the sacristy of St. George's Roman Catholic Church at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, 13 July 2014. It was quickly extinguished though documents and vestments were damaged. There were no injuries. There was a minor fire in a spot within the church grounds.

Quick as Williamson's Fire! There was a fire at Harbin's or Williamson's Garage on Young Street that was extinguished before the firetrucks arrived. That is a conumdrum in itself as the relatively nearby Fire Station on the Carenage had a history of unreliable arrivals. Nevertheless, the use of "Williamson's Fire" to note a time period may be a world saying or moved into the Grenadian vernacular as an illustrative point. You'd better get it done quick like Williamson's Fire.

Conflagrations lighting up the sky of Grenada drew the attention of people on the small island.

Fires were not over in Grenada in 2014, and the seeming rash of fires was suspicious and being investigated including one in St. Patrick's around May 2014 where a man died.

On Saturday, 5 April 2014 in the early morning hours, fire took the life of two adults who were sleeping. The blaze happened in Balthazar, St. Andrew's parish.

On Wednesday, 2 April 2014 on Henry Street in Victoria, St. Mark's fire gutted a wood and concrete home.

Another major house fire happened on Edward Street [aka 'The Back Street'] in Gouyave on Saturday, 8 March 2014. Seventeen [17] members of the Smith family had their lives disrupted by the tragedy, according to early reports. People and organizations gathered round including Father Andrew Barnard, officials from four Government ministries, the National Disaster Management Authority, the NNP Welfare Association, the Grenada Red Cross, the Gouyave Community in New York, a Gouyave writer in the diaspora, and a special WEEFM radio-ton for people to aid in the relief effort.

Gouyave Fire 8 March 2014
Photo courtesy of Leon DeCoteau, ©2014

The horror of a house fire hit three homes in Gouyave. A further look into the matter by the RGPF brought forth the charge to a man of arson by intentionally and unlawfully setting fire to his dwelling house. The charge was brought at the Magistrate's Court against the 44-year-old unemployed man. The fire spread to the two homes adjacent and partially burned them. The fire occurred in the early morning hours of 14 July 2012. No one was injured.

GunBattle Gouyave Fire 14 July 2012
Photo courtesy of Leon DeCoteau, ©2012

The New Year 2012 brought fire to Levera in St. Patrick's parish on the afternoon of 2 January 2012. Early reports are there were seven [7] occupants of the house with no deaths or injuries.

Levera Fire 2 January 2012
Photo courtesy of Sonia Alexander, ©2012

Midnight of 22 December into 23 December, right before Christmas Eve 2011, a fire blazed at Gouyave Estate Market Square. The flames completely destroyed everything in the house of Sandra Benjamin, but no one was hurt. The children were safe. Again, inadequate fire-fighting equipment allowed the fire to burn widely. There was a firetruck at Gouyave Police Station, according to Art Hosten, but it had been there over a year waiting for parts. The fire was fought with a Land Rover tender.

Gouyave Fire 31 December 2011
Photo courtesy of Art Hosten, ©2011

On 13 August 2011, a Saturday three weeks before the school session had commenced, a portion of St. Dominic's Roman Catholic School was destroyed due to fire. The school is located a rural area called Laura Land in St. David's parish.

The pre-school section and two classrooms for Grade 6 were destroyed. Windows broken, glass everywhere, beams were exposed, and desks and chairs were ruined. The amount of paper-based items in that portion of the school, such as teaching aids, books and papers brought an additional loss. It was estimated about 100 children were displaced from classrooms because of the fire.

Investigation of the next steps for continued education and an Action Plan, as well as into the origin of the fire, continued. Parents and teachers held meetings and students kept to their preschedule first day of school for the new term on 5 September.

The Drill Yard Fire July 2011

Around mid-morning to noontime on Tuesday 5 July 2011, flames and smoke could be seen coming from Young Street.

Drill Yard Fire 5 July 2011 Drill Yard Fire 5 July 2011 Drill Yard Fire 5 July 2011
Photos courtesy of the online Grenada Voice, July 2011

In what appeared to be a second event on Tuesday, 5 July 2011, flames shot up and smoke was thickly sooty as reflected in the photos above in what came to be called as the Drill Yard Fire. The area complex which included the Drill Yard, the old Ministry of Works building and the colonial Antilles Building — were consumed by the fire. There was no loss of life; nevertheless, the loss of property was extensive. The cultural loss is immeasurable.

Firefighters, who came from the Grenada Fire Department with volunteer firefighters from Saint George's Medical School and the Maurice Bishop International Airport, were commended for their quick response and control of the fire.

Of particular concern to many was the Grenada National Museum. The Museum had, according to the Grenada Broadcast.com website, a "near-brush with fire early Tuesday morning." Note the reporter wrote "early . . . morning."

There was a separate on-site report of a fire in the National Museum, four days earlier, on Friday, 1 July 2011 which was quickly detected and extinguished.

The cause of the fire/s is under investigation at this time.

The Grenville Vendors Mall Fire June 2010

Following a dry season with fires in the hills and final rain relief, comes another spontaneous fire in the heart of the City of Grenville, parish of St. Andrew's. The fire was first observed on Sunday night late, 27 June 2010. Mikey Hutchinson of WEEFM in Grenada arrived right after the fire started and took this photo below. In addition to the 33 out of 38 booths in the vendors market being complete destroyed, fire started in the St. Andrew's public library and the Grenville post office. Damage was done to the Ministry of Finance office in Grenville, though records were preserved [which subsequently relocated]. After about four hours into the early morning of 28 June 2010, the fire was contained.

Flames from Grenville Vendors Market Fire
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Hutchinson, © June 2010

The Carenage-Rudolph's Restaurant Fire July 2002

Before the Fire

During the Fire

After the Fire
Before, During and After the 11 July 2002 Major Fire
Photos Courtesy of Brian Steele, ©2002

Light, heat and flame have caused calamity for Grenadians from earliest times to the most recent very large fire (see above) on the Carenage, 11 July 2002.

Hubbard's Appliance Department, Rudolf's Restaurant and Courts (Gda.) Ltd. ignited and the damage gutted the insides of these colonial structures and charred the brick or stone surface of their late 18th to early 19th C. shells. Every remaining structural piece was "mashed up," as you can see in the bottom photo. To save the buildings or rebuild them was not in the plan. Will the bricks be recycled?

Rudolf's Restaurant, a favorite of many Grenadians and visitors to Grenada which has stood there for 20 years became an empty space for a while.

Site of former Rudolf's Restaurant
Photo Courtesy of Jacquie Glomski, ©December, 2002

Spontaneous Combustion or Arson?

An instant of combustion occurs naturally, or can happen artificially by way of arson. In almost all fires involving structures, the suspicion of arson hangs in the air like acrid smoke until fire investigators make their determination. In the case of these most recent fires in St. George's, arson was ruled out.

Nevertheless, arson raises its ugly head from time to time, not to speak of the equal tragedy of the power of fire under whatever circumstances. Fires in Grenada also repeatedly point out insufficient preparation and delayed arrival times of fire personnel, usually working with local citizens. Debate rages whether salt water can be used to put out flames, followed by flushing of fire-fighting equipment with non-salt water; or whether non-salt water should be stored at important locations on the island, including hydrants in the larger cities. The Grenada Fire Department is under the authority of the Royal Grenada Police Force Commissioner of Police.

True setting of fires or the suspicion of fires being set plays an important role in Grenadian history especially during the political years of former Prime Ministers Eric Mathew Gairy and Maurice Bishop.

An interesting rationalization of arson is found in the novel Ruler of Hiroona by G.C.H. Thomas. It goes like this:-

"Don't think of it as arson, man. It would be arson if it were done by a private individual with malicious, mischievous or personal motives, but if it is done by the Government—and I am the Government—for the good of the state, then arson is out of the question."

Colonial Times

Fire destroyed the wooden-structured town of St. George's in 1771 and 1775. According to Father Devas in "A History of the Island of Grenada," - "It was at this period that many of the stone and brick buildings came into existence . . . " Roofs began to be laid in red clay tiles, said to come from the cooking oil containers used to ballast ships.

Fire consumed two-thirds of the capital 15 May 1792, according to Jessamy in "Forts and Coastal Batteries of Grenada." This fire actually started on a ship in harbor on the Carenage, and involved rum and highly combustible structures.

Jessamy also informs that a bush fire burnt down the military hospital. The site eventually became the location of the main building of Richmond Hill Prison.

During the Fedon Rebellion 1795, most British estates were destroyed by fires. The conflagrations were set as acts of arson by the rebels.

The Grenada Magazine of January, 1833, in an article written 26 January 1833, explored alternate possibilities for "conveying water into the Town of Saint George. The plans were explored in some detail and costs were approximated. Fires were on the writer's mind when he began his article stating -

The various desperate attempts which have lately been made, one of them successfully, to set the Town of St George on fire, will, it is presumed, be considered a sufficient apology for intruding the following crude plans to bring water to commanding situations within it, wit the hopes that the present discussion may draw the attention and employ the abilities of some more practical men than the writer; for, there can be no doubt that the proposed formation of a Night Watch—the establishment of a Fire Company—together with the acquisition of one or two Fire Engines, would but indifferently contribute to the safety or preservation of the Town in cases of fire, without a regular and abundant supply of water.

The first vehicle to fight fires evolved out of an April 1843 legislative act initiating a crew of men to fight fires. Fire-fighting was part of management by the Royal Grenada Police Force [RGPF].

In November 1885, around the time of Guy Fawkes Day (5 November), it was the custom to celebrate this holiday with fireworks and bonfires. At this time, there was discord between citizens and governing powers. Guy Fawkes was the British man who in 1605 tried to burn down the Houses of Parliament. Often his effigy is burnt. Business people, especially in Market Square, were not comfortable with open fire near their wooden-frame buildings. The store owners complained and a law was passed forbidding bonfires or fireworks. The people in St. George town did not take to this new law and other political conflicts at the time, and took part in what is called the 'Bonfire Riots.'

Fire plugs, which began to be used in 1886, provided St. George's town with sources of water. During a fire call, the fire-fighters would dig to the water main to supply bucket brigades in the early days. Fire engines of old had hand pumps. The holes to obtain water were closed with wooden stoppers, or plugs.

Even without documentation, we can imagine the burden of the threat of incendiary events during times of wood, open fires, isolation, and inaccessibility to the water it would take to quench great fires.

The first Fire Brigade was established in 1895 and still part of the Royal Grenada Police Force.

The Turn of the Century and Post World War I

The Logie fire in Hermitage lasted a month sometime in the early 1900s. Bush fires have always been a thorn in the side of Grenadian firefighters - even today. The sulfur contained in the soil seemed to have it in itself to alight, but it is the burning of bush spreading out of control that has tormented firefighters, neighboring citizens and their buildings and grounds.

Reports prevail that during 1919-1920, returning British West Indian Regiment soldiers from Grenada were implicated in fires and robberies. Their agenda had political implications. Notes would be left that the mayhem was caused by the TTT Gang. The Grenada Electric Theater had shown a film around November 1919 where the perpetrators had taken their name. Fingers pointed to First Contingent soldier Tubal Uriah Butler [who left the island in January of 1921 for Trinidad] as a primary instigator.

By August 1919, " . . . in St. George's, Grenada, the outbreak of many incendiary fires caused officials to enroll sixty special constables to patrol the town at night. We find no evidence in the govt document of any direct involvement by Universal Negro Improvement Association in the incendiarism, although it is possible that the 'Negro World' provided partial inspiration," according to Elkins in Rupert Lewis's book "Garvey."

According to Payne's "Grenada: Revolution and Invasion," " . . . unemployment and destitution for returning soldiers, who in 1920, tried to destroy the capital, St. George's, by fire."

Singham sums the period up in "The Hero and the Crowd In a Colonial Polity": "After the war, agitation reached the stage of violence, culminating in attempts to burn down the capital city of St. George in 1920 [13 January], which was attributed to the influence of returning servicemen and inflammatory literature from abroad."

In March of 1925, Willie Redhead in "City on a Hill" writes of a huge fire [called the Hubbard's lumber yard fire] in St. George's - Tryne Alley, Scott Street, Tyrrel Street; two days before Good Friday. The fire smoldered during Holy Thursday.

The early records from the 1720's of estate store supplier Messrs. Thomson Hankey & Co. Ltd. St. George's & Grenville were destroyed by fire in 1948, according to Baker, "Records of the Windward Islands."

The Savoy Hotel fire of the late 1940s was determined to be ignited by a person who had previously suffered brain injury in a cycling accident

Sky-Red

On the night of 21 February, 1951, according to acting Administrator G.C. Green, the following buildings were destroyed by fire: Woburn Medical Station, the Governor's Bathing Hut, Belmont Government School and other smaller buildings. Attempts were made to burn the pier in St. George's and a Government secondary school in Tanteen. This was following Gairy's famous day-long mass demonstration outside the Legislative Council at the York Building.

Further, even repeated, reports of fires from Singham:

"On February 23rd [1951] violence broke out in a number of areas. The Belmont Government school was burned, as was the Governor's private beach house. The police reported a number of fires on various estates, claiming that they had been forced to open fire in some of the sugar areas. Grenville was quite tense, and numbers of demonstrations and incidents were reported there. St. George's remained calm. On February 27th a Roman Catholic school in Grenville was burned to the ground, and the police were called out in a number of areas throughout that island."

Caldwell Taylor wrote in the April, 2001 online issue of Verse-At-Isle, about Parochial Hall. The original building opened in 1844, according to Baker. Taylor gives this history:

"The Sky-Red disturbances of [19 February - 19 March] 1951 saw many fires that did considerable damage to property, including schools. In fact, Eric Gairy's old school, the St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Senior School, known colloquially as "Parochial Hall' was among the buildings burned to the ground. Parochial Hall was right next to the Roman Catholic Church, Grenville."

Schoenhals has this observation about the disturbances:

"It was not only the first general strike in Grenada's history, it also turned into a rural insurrection. Many plantation houses were looted and burned; stocks of nutmegs and cocoa were destroyed; road blocks were set up all over the island; and the economic life on Grenada ground to a halt."

Recall Gairy's radio address of March 5, 1951 when he asked the people to " . . . stop the burning of buildings and fields . . ."

For a delicious flavor of the "Sky-Red" period, read Merle Collins' book, Angel.

Evidently there was a damaging fire in Market Square, the T.R. Evans store fire of 1952.

The present red Fire Station on the Carenage in St. George's was built in 1953.

With no date pinned down, circa the 1960s, the Fletcher Boys School Fire occurred.

The Great Harbour Fire 'Bianca C.'

The 'Bianca C.' blazed afire in the entrance to St. George's harbor on Sunday, 22 October 1961 and into Monday. An explosion in the engine room of the Italian vessel caused the inferno. The explosion killed one person on the scene and two others died later from burns. Passengers of this cruise ship, which frequented Grenada, were rescued from boats navigated by Grenadians. Passengers were evacuated to safety in and around St. George's. The 'Bianca C' sunk a mile or so off Point Salines.

The Grenadian community gave what they could to the over 400 passengers and 300 crew—lodging, food, clothing, and a helping hand. A statue, 'Christ of the Deep,' is currently on the Carenage facing the harbor, commemorative of the event. The Costa Line owners of the completely destroyed ship gave Grenada a large bronze statue.

Senator Derek Knight's home burned to the ground in 1962.

People remember the fire at the Palmer School/old St. George's R.C. School of 3 July 1969 [photo below].

Moving Into the Turbulent 1970s

In a special radio address of May 23, 1970, Gairy referred to the Black Power actions and its effect in neighboring Trinidad as 'a house on fire.' During this address, Gairy utilized his inimitable way with words. He said:

"It is said that when your neighbor's house is on fire,
keep on wetting your own house."

There were always fires and in the Town of St. George one could not miss the alarm; in fact, one could walk right over and watch most times. In the late 1960s into the 1970s boys at GBSS could recall the fire at the House of Fashion while on their way to or from the GBSS Tuck Shop. Further away, the Hungry Eye burnt and was rebuilt.

The fire everyone seemed to recall was the 'Frenchie Fire' or 'Frenchy's' in the 1970s. Thie destruction had overtones of non-political arson. In 1971, the Grenada Beach Hotel fire occurred.

Also in 1971, on the 19th of June, a fiery tragedy befell passengers and crew on a motor schooner from Trinidad to St. George's. The name of the vessel was The City of St. George. Joachim Mark comments about Gairy-ordered consignment of "new and modern equipment":

Popular suspicion is that the arms and ammunition [aboard] were stored too closely to the engine room and, as a result caused the explosion which demolished the ship.

Joachim Mark comments on the Anglican Girls' High School fire of 16 October 1972:

. . . Gairy took his campaign for independence from Britain to the Anglican Girls' High School. As a mark of protest against his intransigence the students refused to stand and sing the National Anthem. Within a few hours the school was burnt down.

Another report of this school destruction:

On Sunday 16 October 1972, the Anglican High School [AHS] in St. George's was destroyed by fire, allegedly set by political activists. The school obtained permission of the Resident Tutor and the University [UWI] to house the school's senior pupils between 23 October 1972 and July 1973.

The uncorroborated information above about the Marryshow House location was obtained from a now deleted web site administered by jnigel. Date corroboration is from the Grenadian Voice newspaper.

Sandford's "New Jewel" relates that Radio Grenada was fire bombed subsequent to the time of the murder of Jeremiah Richardson, April 20, 1973.

A published report by Jeff Hackett tells of a raging fire burning at a partially constructed wooden, two-story building overlooking the Holiday Inn Hotel where Prime Minister Gairy was to hold an Independence cocktail party. The building was owned by attorney Michael J. Sylvester who was thought to be a NJM sympathizer. This fire occurred on 6 February 1974, one hour before Independence Day which began at midnight. One account has Gairy at Fort George during the flag-raising ceremony and speech talking to a backdrop of smoke and flames in the distance.

Paterson writes about another fire early morning Monday, 23 September 1974 when NJM's Tryne Alley offices were half burnt down -

"If the fire had started from inside and the Party suspected arson then why were there no signs of forced entry? Since the actual damage was so minimal, was it worthwhile reporting? Those were the sorts of questions that anti-Mongoose, anti-Gairy reporters were not supposed to ask."

The Grenada Industries Ltd. factory was burned to the ground in the evening of 14 December 1974. The facility was located in the Grand Anse area. The cost estimate total on the loss was EC$65,000,000. Sixty [60] garment and mattress making employees were jobless as a result of the fire. The origin was unknown.

Sometime circa 1975, three of Ken Milne's business houses were burnt down, supposedly a Gairy-sponsored retribution. On Scott Street the top floor and roof of the 2-story property own by Joseph Pitt caused concern between 1:30 until 3:00 a.m. on 26 August 1975. The price put on Pitt's estimated loss was EC $140,000. Because water was lacking in the main piping system, sea water was pumped from the Carenage. At M.A. Bullen & Sons next door EC $70,000 worth of damage occurred. Adding to the confusion was the unoccupied fire truck which rolled backwards down the hill of Scott Street right into the 'Tip Top' Record shop, causing window and some stock damage. Perhaps this is the "Kirpalani/Johnson's fire" cited by Martin.

The New Jewel newspaper, most likely the issue of 14 March 1975, reported on a "Disaster at Sea". The morning of 13 March 1975, at about 6.30 a.m., residents in an area stretching from Point Salines to Sauteurs saw a pillar of black smoke some two miles out to sea.

Terror shook the hearts of all those who saw that signal of disaster as there was the haunting memories of the ill fated vessel Bianca C. [22 October 1961] which had caught fire and sunk in St. George’s a few years ago with tragic loss of life.

The police on duty at the Fire Station received several calls from members of the public who told them the story. As one such caller relates he was asked by the person at the other end of the line ‘you want us to put a fire engine on a boat and go out there’. The caller replied that he did not expect that but wished the police to send out the Coast Guard Vessels Protector or Rescuer to save the lives of the passengers and crew.

Those who watched the drama, became angry as they came to understand that Lucifer and his Government would do nothing to save the lives in danger.

From Fontenoy a local fishing boat launched, and as the passengers took to the boat and the crew threw themselves in, the sea help had at last arrived.

The passengers and crew were all rescued about 7.45 a.m. and expressed their thanks to the crew of the Fontenoy fishing boat, and the crew of Huggins Launch. They were furious and could not understand why there was not official craft to rescue them.

When the survivors were landed at the Fire Station at about 8.30 a.m. there was a large crowd to greet them. The crowd expressed their anger at the failure of those in charge to render any assistance. Protector and Rescuer were anchored nearby, not even their horns were in working order to sound a Toot-Toot of welcome.

Our reporter was made to understand that those two coast guard boats were not cared for and the engines of both crafts are on the scrap heap.

Lucifer, Dr. Cross, early last year fired the best men in the coast guard and put his hand picked Robots in charge. They in turn ran the engine without oil and used the boats to smuggle rum and steal people’s goats and sheep from nearby islands.

The Jewel will establish an air-sea rescue service as our country has the brave and gallant man. The shame, which we as a nation must feel when the ill fated Virginia sank some two miles off short yesterday, and there was no official rescue service, must never and will never happen again.

The Ministry of Agriculture building, 26 March 1976, went up in flames during the evening. It was located in the Botanical Gardens. The destroyed Ministry of Agriculture building was an old wooden structure separated by about twenty [20] feet from the modern concrete structure of the Lands & Surveys Department where there was also extensive damage. In the same compound as the two buildings damaged by fire was the Prime Minister’s Office. The concrete wing of the Ministry of Agriculture shielded the Prime Minister’s office from the intense heat and flame, and that building was undamaged. Valuable records from the old building were destroyed.

The Hon. Ben Jones property was victim to a fire of unknown origin during the time he was one of the defense team at the trial for the murder of Innocent Belmar. During the trial period from 20 June 1978 - 25 July 1978 an attempt was made to set fire to the home of a major defense witness, one Lloyd John from Victoria. Later in 1978 fires occurred at anti-government plantations. Nyack's business was burned to the ground in a roaring fire in Grenville.

"The Grenada Newsletter" of 20 January 1979, reported that the residence of Barclays Bank Manager, P.R. Davies-Evans, was fire-bombed, as was an attempted arson occurred at the residence of Senior Barclay's Bank official, Denby DeFreitas.

The True Blue Barracks Fire During the Time of the Overthrow of Some of Gairy's Forces by the People's Revolutionary Government:

According to one first-hand account by a participant in the coup, the following happened that night between 0200 and 0400 hours - the middle of the night:

On our arrival at True Blue, all dressed in black, I placed the comrades in two behind the trees on the hill overlooking the camp. I went easily and peeped into the main barrack and to my surprise and joy, I saw every man and his brother fast asleep and snoring like elephants.

I removed from the sight and gave an all clear signal with a red flashlight and off the guns, cocktails, bombs, detonators, hand grenades went. In a minute all the dormitories were in flames. Not one green beast (Gairy's soldiers) replied. It appeared that on that particular night, they had no guns.

Some of the soldiers burst opened the doors and windows while others fled for their lives. Others remained apparently drunk on their beds only to be swallowed by the cruel flames . . .

When we had things under control, I went to the office on the other side and telephoned Lieutenant [Hyacinth] Brizan at his home and told him that the camp is on fire - "come right away." He did not know who was speaking.

In the space of a few minutes, Brizan rushed into a death trap. He met us by the junction, and when he discovered we were enemy he pushed his hand into his pocket and immediately both himself and car was riddled by bullets.

A different first-hand account by a participant in the coup about that night:

. . . a fire truck came rushing along intent on putting out the fire. The truck was captured and the occupants taken prisoner. Almost immediately afterwards another detachment led by a Captain of the Green Beast came along. This time the situation ended more seriously. They refused to surrender. They opened fire. Brief fighting ensued. At the end of it, the captain and another security officer lay dead.*

In another piece of writing by a journalist recounting the event:

The surprised soldiers, panic-stricken, surrendered immediately, although some of them fled. But none resisted. The dictatorship's largest garrison was set on fire and the flames were visible from the other side of the bay of the capital, St. George's.

*Most printed accounts of the deaths at True Blue 13 March 1979 name Lieutenant Hyacinth Brizan and Corporal Godwin Pysadee. The first account [On our arrival at True Blue . . . ] writes about 20 dead men dragged from the camp and a Cuban sea burial of 9 bodies.

Allegedly Suspicious Fires During the Time of the People's Revolutionary Government

The talk of needing a fire extinguisher or not emerged from Prime Minister Bishops' talks with US Ambassador to Grenada, resident in Barbados, Frank Ortiz.

Bishop reflected on this 23 March 1979 discussion during his "In Nobody's Backyard" national broadcast on Radio Free Grenada on 13 April 1979, when he said:

And we reject entirely the argument of the American ambassador that we would only be entitled to call upon the Cubans to come to our assistance after mercenaries have landed and commenced the attack. Quite frankly, and with the greatest respect, a more ridiculous argument can hardly be imagined. It is like asking a man to wait until his house is burning down before he leaves to buy a fire extinguisher. No, we intend if possible to provide ourselves with the fire extinguisher before the fire starts! And if the government of Cuba is willing to offer us assistance, we would be more than happy to receive it.

"ARSON" was the 9 May 1979 headline on front page of "Torchlight." Arson was suspected on May 6th after 7 p.m. at a cottage in Morne Rouge, Grand Anse, and the Church Street office of Grenada International Travel Service.

Marable surmises on the two fires with this statement:

"Perhaps the first act of internal destabilization occurred on 6 May 1979, when two major fires were set within two hours of each other, the first a hotel outside St. George's, and the second in a three-storey building in the center of the city.p"

According to the American Embassy to Grenada report titled "US-Grenada Relations":

" . . . an American student at the St. George's University School of Medicine who, according to medical opinion, was disturbed (79 Bridgetown 1829), burnt to the ground the [longish block out] house he was occupying. Coincidentally, another fire occurred in downtown St. George's in which arson was suspected."

In response to news of the fires, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, on 8 May 1979, made a national broadcast on Radio Free Grenada titled "Organize To Fight Destabilization." In that broadcast, Bishop linked the fires to the CIA and its 'pyramid plan' for the destabilization of Grenada. In part of his broadcast, Bishop said:

"'Just this week we have seen the same development in our country. One fire was set - deliberately and by admission - outside of town. And then, a few minutes later, when the fire trucks rushed to the first fire, another one broke out in the heart of town, a fire that could have destroyed a large part of town, a fire which endangered hundreds of lives, a fire which was undoubtedly caused by arson, as the comrades of the people's Revolutionary Army and the firemen who went into the building came our smelling very strongly of kerosene.

Fires planned by the enemies of Grenada tell us that we are dealing with a monster - with a soulless monster who would kill and destroy to create fear. Indeed we must note that the fires could both have a bad effect on the Tourist industry. This is so, because one of them occurred in the heart of the tourist belt, and the other destroyed the building of the leading travel agency and our tour operator in our country. As a matter of fact, we received information this morning that a tour operator in Barbados actually canceled a trip to Grenada yesterday - apparently as a result of the fires.'"

On the other hand, The New Jewel of 29 July 1979 said this:

In May an American medical student burnt down a Carifta Cottage to the ground. He actually signed a confession that he did so. Because he was thought to be mentally unbalanced he was allowed medical treatment, and was not prosecuted by was sent back to the States.

Police reports from that period on the incident were under the supervision of Gerald Date, Acting Superintendent of Police, who officially reported on the incident to Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, most likely after Bishop's speech on May 8th. An official US government report states that the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the Caribbean talked with Bishop about the matter on 9 May 1979. Bishop wanted another psychiatric evaluation, but was cooperative about the seemingly tragic medical situation of the student.

Medical reports reveal the student was manic-depressive and had not been taking his medication for a couple of weeks. Friends report he had been acting strangely in the two-three weeks previous to the fire whereas before that his behavior had been normal.

Police file reports included medical reports on the student renter of the cottage. A confession of fire-setting was given by the student before Dr. A.C. Budhlall, Dr. Jensen Otway, Dr. David Browne and the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the Caribbean, as well a statement by the student under oath.

The People's Revolutionary Army (PRA) personnel had been involved in relation to the student taking the stage at Queen's Park to sing a week prior to the fire. The PRA was also responsible for the student's subsequent apprehension following the fire at No. 14 Carifta Cottages, a wood constructed building on concrete block with galvanize roof, approximately 24' x 36', owned by the Peoples Revolutionary Government (PRG). The structure burned to the ground. There was no insurance. There was no personal injury. The student was taken to Camp Butler later the evening of the fire 6 May 1979. He was examined by Drs. Budhlall and Gittens, and Budhlall committed him to the asylum at Richmond Hill for psychiatric evaluation, and later admitted at the Institute by Dr. Otway. The medical student was deported from Grenada 19 May 1979.

The 1980s

A fire destroyed Mae’s Shop and Balgobins restaurant at the cornr of Halifax and Gore Streets on the night of Saturday 14 June 1980. The Christian Book Shop on Gore Street was also destroyed, and two other establishments, the Arts & Crafts boutique and the St. George’s Book Shop, both had extensive water damage.

A fire, determined to be caused by a crude fire–bomb, occured in Grenville at the Magistrate’s Court. It was extinguished quickly.

On 9 November 1980, the landmark Nutmeg Restaurant on the Carenage was on fire. It was thought the fire started in the kitchen in the late evening. The blaze was contained within 30 minutes; the Fire Brigade was located on the other side of the Carenage. There was “considerable damage” with an estimated out of business time of six [6] months.

The Mirabeau Farm School in St. Andrew's was gutted by fire on 21 January 1981, causing approximately $300,000 in damage. At the time of 24 January 1981, the Free West Indian speculated a possibility of arson.

There was a fire in the afternoon of 28 May 1981 in the Motor Department of Jonas Browne and Hubbard Ltd. on the Carenage. Black smoke billowed for 20 minutes before the fire was put out. A welding accident resulted in igniting the gas of a car under repair.

The Holiday Inn in Grenada opened in 1970 as Grenada's largest hotel. The East Wing of the Holiday Inn was the former Grenada Beach Hotel, built by Abe Issa, a Jamaican who had held the principal interest. This East Wing, formerly the Grenada Beach Hotel, had its own fire on 7 July 1971. The Holiday Inn company took the fire-damage building as its “East Wing,” standing next to the main Holiday Inn building.

On 28 October 1981, according to Grenada Newsletter, there was a fire at the Holiday Inn that started in the kitchen around 2 a.m. The Grenada Fire Department brought it under control around 5:30 a.m. At the time, the hotel was owned by Commonwealth Holiday Inn of Canada. It was partially burned, but seriously damaged. Later, on 28 May 1983, the hotel was purchased by the People's Revolutionary Government with an opening date August 1983. The hotel was renamed the Grenada Beach Hotel with its 204 rooms managed by Andre Cherman.

A wooden house supposedly badly in need of repair on St. Juille Street in the Town of St. George burned down because of no water in mains. The inferno occurred 17 December 1984 and delays caused the house to be entirely burnt. The edifice was in disrepair and used for storing and distribution of ganja.

In 1988 there was a big NCB fire in Carriacou.

The Financial Complex Fire,
contemporaneously called the 'Great St. George's Fire'


Financial Complex Fire 1990 - Appreciation to Modern Photo Studio, Grenada

The Financial Complex fire during the night hours on April 27, 1990, had a reported estimated EC$19 million dollar loss. Often called the Inland Revenue Fire, the fire partially, or completely, destroyed six connected buildings including the Ministry of Finance, Treasury, Post Office and Government Printery, among others. These buildings were on the Carenage, closer in the direction towards Fort George, and neighbors to the fire of 2002. Untrained volunteers and lack of manpower at the Fire Department contributed to the slow process of putting the fires out.

August 4, 1998, the St. David's Catholic Secondary School was destroyed by fire.

The Alban House in St. Paul's burned March 12, 1999. In Sauteurs on or around the date March 14, 2000, four houses burned.

The 'Purcell' Fire

On 15 July 2000, Saturday around 6:45 p.m., a three-alarm fire was called out for the part of Halifax Street with the businesses of L.A. Purcell's Hardware Store, the Grenada Book Store, and part of the Purcell Lumberyard were partially or completely destroyed by fire. At 8:30 p.m. US Joint Task Force Midas personnel were notified by frantic local downtown Grenadian businessmen for water trucks. The 820th Red Horse Squadron moved a 26,000 pound water tanker through the narrow streets, helped maneuver a 6-inch, 25 foot hose and getting water from the fire station. The equipment was the foaming tender from Point Salines Int'l Airport, which helped keep the paints, thinners and other kinds of potentially dangerous liquids from exploding.

The July Night Inferno

For three to four hours, starting around 11:15 p.m., Thursday, 11 July 2002, a wind-driven inferno gutted Hubbard's Appliance Dept., Rudolf's Restaurant and Courts (G'da) Ltd.

Firefighters and volunteers contained the fire which threatened Young Street establishments such as the Antilles Hotel and the Grenada National Museum, the Grenada Public Library, Tikal's Craft Shop, the old Ministry of Education building, the CLICO International General Insurance Ltd., Bain's Sporting Goods and Leathers & Trends. These buildings were spared and no one was injured or killed because of the fire. The total damage is estimated at EC$50 million, US$19 million.

Brown Sugar Restaurant

A fire broke out around 1 a.m. inside the Brown Sugar Restaurant on 10 November 2002. The inside of the building burned for about 45 minutes. According to a relative of the owner: "Nothing saved except 4 plates." The Brown Sugar Restaurant is located at Southwinds Holiday Cottages in Grand Anse.

Grenada Boys Secondary School (GBSS) - Two Fires

19 April 2005, the First GBSS Fire

6 June 2005, the Second GBSS Fire

6 June 2005, the Second GBSS Fire
Top: 19 April 2005, the First GBSS Fire
Middle: 6 June 2005, the Second GBSS Fire
Bottom: 6 June 2005, the Second GBSS Fire

Photos Courtesy of Nazim Benjamin, ©2005

Two fires occurred in 2005 at the Grenada Boys Secondary School [GBSS].

On 19 April 2005 at approximately 7:00 a.m., the first blaze quickly enflamed the Computer Laboratory, Classrooms, Staff room, and Principal's office. A report describes the fire was incendiary at the "Social Science staff room in a small closet on the north side of the room." The fire destroyed everything inside, it is reported, including all school records [possibly latest exam records], furniture, and computer equipment, among the major items.

Almost three months later, the second conflagration at GBSS took place in the late afternoon around 5 p.m. of Thursday, 9 June 2005 where the school laboratory facilities burned in the area to the far end of the GBSS classrooms overlooking Tropicana. A report describes this second fire was incendiary "starting in the center class room." Another news report terms the destruction of GBSS, established at the turn of the century, "completely destroying the institution."

According to a media press conference presented by Einstein Louison, Minister of National Security on 25 July 2005:

The Ministry of National Security views the results of these investigations as extremely serious for the following reasons:

  1. Because the investigators determined that the fire was intentionally set.

  2. The cost to the Country of these criminal acts has been estimated in excess of US $1 million.

  3. Because of serious disruption, these have caused to our education system.

Indeed, the report the National Security Minister refers to was one completed by 5 investigators from the United States' Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) International Response Team, with the assistance of two officers of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF).

The Westmoreland Primary School Fire

And right after Hurricane Emily passed on 17 July 2005, the Westmoreland Primary School was on fire. It is reported most of this school was destroyed.

The Lucas and Scott Street Fire

In this same clustered time-frame of St. George's fires, another blaze occurred on 30 July 2005. Reports put the fire at the intersection of Lucas and Scott Streets. According to Grenada Today newspaper, RGPF are considering charging a homeless woman with accidentally starting the fire. Reports are of damage to an abandoned wooden structure where the homeless woman was sheltered, as well as the properties of Sydney Jacobs, Richard Worth and Lera McKenzie on H.A. Blaize Street, formerly Tyrrel Street.
Fire: Lucas and Scott Streets
Photo courtesy of GrenadaExplorer.net, ©2005

Fire Commentaries

Grenadian memory and tribute emerges - check Fire and a Statue, a poem by Anthony Wendell DeRiggs; also Human Fire Hazards, by York Marryshow.

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