Aftermath of Friday’s BPL fire
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
NEW Providence can expect load shedding for the rest of the week after a fire caused unprecedented damage at Bahamas Power and Light’s Clifton Pier station over the weekend - while a second blaze broke out last night at the same location.
The first fire broke out around 10.30pm on Friday, according to BPL’s CEO Whitney Heastie, who has since appealed to the public to assist the electricity provider by conserving energy so it can meet energy demands.
The second blaze erupted last night shortly before 10pm - and Fire Services said that three units were on the scene.
Speaking to The Tribune at the scene last night, Superintendent Thomas Lightbourne said: “Fire Services received a call at 9.38pm. We responded with a compliment of officers and applicances. On arrival, we met fire contained to the basement. We immediately proceeded to extinguish it.”
“As we speak now, our officers are still on the scene assiduously working to have this fire extinguished.
“We also supported by the airport fire services – they’re here on scene and they’re doing their best to assist us with this fire.”
Fire Services director Supt Walter Evans said last nigth that an investigation would begin immediately into the blaze.
He said: “We need to determine exactly what was the cause. The depth at which we had to fight this fire and on Friday, we’re probably looking at a 25-30ft drop.
“The officers had to walk on a surface which is a grid iron floor and just below that you can imagine the depth of it and you had what we believe to be sludge and maybe oil deposits and you had not just one fire, you had several fires ongoing below in that general vicinity.
“Officer safety was of paramount concern and again the officers were very professional in what they did and we were happy to report that there were no officers who received any injuries.
“As the Bahamian public may be fully aware, this has been the second fire within just a short span of a few days and the Bahamas Police Force Fire Service has responded. In the first instance, the fire which took place on Friday night, the operations for this fire took some four hours in duration to ensure that we were able to not allow that fire to spread to any of the other unaffected areas at BPL.
“The fire tonight – this is in the same general vicinity as the fire we had on Friday evening, so an investigation has been launched to determine what would have been the cause.
“We know the kind of effect this can have on the Bahamian public and so the fire services is mindful and that’s why we’ve had to ramp up our response level to ensure none of these fires spread to a level whereby there was any major or catastrophic damage.
“At this point, BPL will evaluate and they will comment on the extent of the damages. However, I can also reassure that an investigation has been launched. Fire Services teams will move in to BPL first thing Monday morning to conduct an investigation and to conduct inspection of the affected areas.”
In a statement yesterday, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip Davis called for full disclosure from the government in the face of what he claimed were “credible” social media reports alleging the fire was caused by negligence on the part of high-level employees.
BPL’s hiring practices have come under fire in recent months from its workers union.
Load shedding is expected to persist until Friday but residents will not be pre-warned due to safety concerns.
During Saturday’s press conference at BPL’s headquarters, Works Minister Desmond Bannister stressed there have been numerous incidents in the past where the broadcast of scheduled outages has endangered customers.
“It’s important to appreciate the advice that the safety authorities give to BPL,” Mr Bannister said.
“If you tell someone the power is going to be off, if you tell the nation power is going to be off in a particular neighbourhood and a particular time, then those people in that neighbourhood could be in danger.
“Over the years we’ve had too many incidents where people have been endangered; BPL doesn’t want to be responsible for that so we have to be very careful,” Mr Bannister said.
Mr Heastie added: “We do understand certainly there may be damage to people’s property or appliances as a result of just abruptly shutting off power. We think that pales in comparison to someone doing some other harm as a result of knowing or targeting an area that may be out of power.”
On Saturday, Mr Heastie explained a technician was making adjustments at a major diesel engine deck while bringing an out of service generator online when the fire started and quickly spread down to a basement and throughout the station.
While there were no injuries, BPL will not be able to assess the damage to ascertain how much money or manpower will be needed to effect repairs until the area is deemed safe enough to traverse.
“We want to make sure the area is safe for personnel to go inside,” Mr Heastie said, “once we have it cleared we will go component by component. We need to know what is the extent of damage, then we have to determine what it will take from a manpower or man-loading perspective to repair or bring back to normality.
“We do have some assets that is becoming available and we believe by Friday, based on the load forecast and availability of those assets, that we will be at the end of the load shedding scheme.”
Mr Heastie explained the state-owned utility company had enough surplus assets to meet the load for New Providence; however, the condition and availability of those assets presented some issues.
On Saturday, Mr Bannister thanked the multi-agency response to the blaze, which was not extinguished until around 3am on Saturday.
“BPL is working professionally to seek to continue to make a difference,” Mr Bannister said.
“This is a temporary incident,” he continued on Saturday, “this is not something that is going to stop our progress and we look forward to continue to give the type of outstanding service that BPL is seeking to give to the Bahamian people.”
Yesterday, Bahamas Electrical Workers Union President Paul Maynard said no assessments had started yet.