By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
CLOSE to a dozen stores were destroyed when a massive blaze consumed the Britannia Mini Mall yesterday and threatened another nearby business in Freeport.
The fire started shortly before 3pm, and quickly spread through the entire building, which housed three churches, located at Lunar Boulevard and Polaris Drive. No injuries or loss of life were reported.
Although fire units arrived quickly at the scene after receiving the call, according to a senior fire official, the entire roof of the building was already engulfed in flames. He noted that the absence of a firewall reportedly contributed to the fast movement of the fire.
Firefighters battled for over an hour and a half to control the blaze and were able to stop it from spreading to the Stop and Wash Shopping Centre, located just behind the burning building.
Superintendent Ernest Hanna, chief fire officer for Grand Bahama and the northern Bahamas, said that fire officers were out practising a drill at the Grand Bahama International Airport when they received a call shortly before 3pm.
“We were close by and proceeded to the scene and met the building in an advanced stage of burning,” he said. “The roof was pretty much engulfed in fire, and our main priority was to contain the fire and stop it from spreading to the other shopping centre nearby.”
Many onlookers had gathered in the area, including the owner of the building and some of the business tenants, watching as the fire ravaged the structure.
Two fire units were on the scene, and a third unit, the Airport Crash Fire and Rescue team, assisted in extinguishing the blaze.
Supt Hanna said there were no injuries or loss of life. He noted that there were some initial challenges when they arrived. “Power to the building was still live, and it took a while for the (Grand Bahama) Power Company to come and de-energise the supply to make it safe for our officers – that posed a challenge in the initial stage.”
He also said there was an issue with the construction of the building.
“There is no firewall separating the different businesses, and so that posed a challenge for us; the fire was pretty much able to spread through the roof in quick time,” he explained.
When asked the cause of the fire, Supt Hanna said that they do not know at this time because they are still in the initial stages of their investigations.
While the fire chief could not say how many businesses were affected, The Tribune understands that there was a bakery, variety store, meat shop, three churches, a clothing store, computer store, barbershop, hair salon/beauty supply store, and a liquor store situated in the shopping centre.
He commended their partners in Airport Crash Fire and Rescue for their assistance. “We were having a tabletop drill at the airport when we got the call, and so they were able to be on the scene in a very short matter of minutes to assist us also,” he noted.
Supt Hanna believes that the nearby shopping centre might also have been affected had it not been for a fire hydrant that was located next to the building.
“There is a hydrant right next to the building; it did not have much pressure, but it caused us to be able to save the next shopping centre. Without that hydrant, that building might have gone also,” he said.
He also commended his team of fire officers. “I was very impressed with them. Half of them are young and just came out of fire training, so they had less than a year in the field, and so this is the largest fire they have ever combatted.”
Supt Hanna could not give an estimate of the damage at this time but indicated that it would be substantial given the amount of the businesses located in the building.
The owner of the building was at a loss for words when approached by reporters for comment and said: “I can’t talk right now.”
Tenant Wellington Kemp, the pastor of Harvest Time and Deliverance Fellowship Centre, said it was a complete loss for the church, which had been there for the past seven years.
“It’s a loss, but it is just material things, and we will rebuild and continue here because we are excited about this area. The contents inside were not insured, and it was a complete loss for us,” he said.
Pastor Kemp said that when he learned of the fire, he came immediately. “When I arrived, just the front was on fire, and then it quickly spread throughout the entire building.
“When… I saw the intensity of the blaze which overwhelmed the entire building so quickly I was very concerned and hoped that there was no one in the building or that any lives were lost,” he said.
Another tenant Whitney Bain, owner of Distinctive Gifts, said the store had only opened two months ago.
“We had children’s toys, baby clothing, women’s handbags, fragrances for men and women, and we offered the services for graduation rings and other graduation-related material. We opened on December 22, so we’re two months old, and persons were getting to know the store; they liked the service and products.”
Mr Bain said that he had left the store earlier because he had an appointment downtown. “From downtown, I saw the smoke, and I tried to get here as quickly as I could. Once I got down here, this is what I saw – I don’t think there is anything to be salvaged (from this).”