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Fire rages on Bay

Half a dozen buildings were reduced to charred shells and rubble while several more sustained severe damage yesterday in a massive blaze that left scores of people without jobs and caused millions of dollars in damage to downtown businesses.

Scores of Bahamians and tourists watched in horror as firefighters fought the fire, which started at Betty K Agency Ltd. on downtown Bay Street shortly before 8 a.m.

The inferno raged for more than six hours in what is being described as the most exhausting ordeal for firefighters since the Bay Street Straw Market burned down in September 2001.

According to Fire Services Director Jeffrey Deleveaux, firefighters were severely challenged yesterday.

“We suspect[the fire]started down in the far section of the building,”Deleveaux said.

“It got out of hand and it spread to where you see it is now. It affected this entire block, especially the buildings that had two stories and above.”

He was referring to the block which housed Venue Clothing Store, EF Liquor Store and Botany Bash. In addition to those businesses, Bacardi Store and the Churchill Building were also damaged. In total about nine stores were destroyed or severely affected by water, smoke or fire.

Thick smoke billowed throughout the downtown area, making it difficult to breathe or even see. The smoke could be seen from many miles away.

Several buildings not directly impacted by the fire were closed for the day, including the courts. Staff at the House of Assembly and the Churchill Building were also evacuated.

The fire was so huge officials called in police officers, defence force officers, airport authority officials and Lyford Cay Fire Services personnel to assist.

Deleveaux said the main problem was discovering the seat of the fire. He added that the fire spread very quickly because most of the buildings are very old.

“We thought we would have been able to find the seat of the fire quickly but it’s a maze inside the building…The fire was in the far eastern section of the building and when it burst out it spread rapidly in the old structure.”

Officials said there were no serious injuries. A Tribune photographer was carried away by ambulance after he fell from a balcony while taking pictures.

National Emergency Management Agency Director Captain Stephen Russell described the damage as”tragic.”However, he said he was pleased to see how all the agencies came together to battle the fire.

“All the buildings are basically gone,”said Russell, shaking his head.

Managing Director of the Downtown Partnership Vaughn Roberts toldThe Nassau Guardianyesterday that there was substantial loss.

“I think in terms of economics there’s clearly been a significant loss in value in the real estate that’s been destroyed by the fire,”he said.

“In addition to that, some of the real estate had historical value so there’s broader impact for the community.”

He said he hopes that officials can clear the area fairly quickly.

The fire caused severe traffic congestion throughout the streets of Nassau after police shut down many of the corridors leading to the main downtown area. Assistant Commissioner Hulan Hanna said police began diverting traffic around 8 a.m. to ensure that the roads were accessible for emergency vehicles.

Officials said there was no indication of what caused the fire. However, fire department officials said when the smoke clears, they hope to determine what brought on the disaster.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest and Environment Minister Dr. Earl Deveaux were among the government officials who viewed the site yesterday.

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