ALICE TOWN, Bimini – Anita Harris had just finished exercising on Monday night when her power went out and she heard several explosions ring out.
It was the engines at Bahamas Power and Light’s (BPL) Alice Town power plant that exploded and caught fire.
“The power just went out,” said Harris, a lifelong resident of the island.
“There were a few explosions.
“And then someone said, ‘BPL is on fire.’
“My son, my only child, works at BPL and so I started panicking. I tried to call him a few times, but he didn’t answer. The fourth time I got him.
“It was really a disaster last night and you know the homes are so close in Bimini.
“So we went there, we went to the scene and we didn’t know what was going to happen because if you had seen that fire last night, that blaze, the explosion, it was just awful.”
Outside the power plant, Donald Bullard, a 53-year resident of Bimini, was inspecting the shell of the building that housed the engines.
Bullard said he was at home on Monday night when he got a call that said, “Come quick because BEC is on fire.”
“I was afraid because I know we don’t have the proper equipment here,” Bullard told The Nassau Guardian.
“We have a fire truck now. We’re lacking oxygen and all these type of stuff… Everybody was afraid but I chose to try to get down here and do my best to help out.”
Bullard said things were looking dim.
“One of the retired BEC workers, I praise him to the highest level because we didn’t have no water,” he continued.
“Ozzie Davis, he did a tremendous job on knowing how to bypass valves because some of these water systems ain’t [get] used in many, many years.
“We started having leaks. We wasn’t getting no pressure. But by the time he got himself together we had enough water to put it out.”
Officials said the fire erupted shortly before 9 p.m. on Monday.
Officers, members of the Bimini Volunteer Firefighters, residents and tourists on the island battled the blaze for nearly seven hours and managed to extinguish it by 3:30 a.m.
However, the fire had already destroyed two of the power plant’s main engines.
According to Cleola Pinder, the island administrator for Bimini and Cat Cay, the island had just received a new fire truck just eight months ago.
“We were really grateful because the videos that were circulating, it showed that the whole power station was engulfed in fire, so we were expecting the worst,” she said.
Pinder said all those individuals came together to make sure “the plant itself was protected and it wasn’t a devastating damage”.
“It would have been very devastating or a different scene this morning if part of the power station wasn’t reserved,” she said.
BPL CEO Whitney Heastie and Acting COO Ian Pratt were on the ground yesterday to assess the damage.
As The Guardian spoke to Heastie on the matter, Harris took the opportunity to read him the riot act.
“It could have been disastrous last night,” she told him.
“We need to get Bimini in order. Other than Nassau and Abaco, Bimini is third in pulling in money for the public purse. So Bimini doesn’t need to be treated like a step-child any longer. We need to fix these problems.
“We don’t want any words out of your mouth. We need to fix Bimini… We don’t need another situation like this to happen. And we need to do it as quick as possible because you know this is a little city. Bimini is growing but BPL isn’t.”
According to officials, the cause of the fire has yet to be determined and initial assessments are unable to determine the cost of the damage sustained.
In a statement last night, BPL said the two engines were “irreparably damaged”.
“In addition to the engines and generators themselves, auxiliary equipment such as pumps, filters and electrical switchgear have also been destroyed by the blaze.
“These units represented the base load machines on the island. The cause of the fire itself has not been ascertained. This will be the subject of an internal BPL investigation as well as reviewed by the relevant agencies and local and international insurance adjusters.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications