PORT OF SPAIN –– Mother of Shaliner Theodore-Hospedales was on the ground crawling through the unfriendly flames of a bush fire on Wednesday as she attempted to find her nine-year-old son, Hezekiah. As she desperately sought out her eldest of two children she herself caught fire.
As the fire caught hold of her clothing and began to spread about her entire body, her screams brought help from villager Phillip Steven Jones, 27, who risked his own life by jumping through a ring of fire to extinguish the flames on her.
“I ran back down the hill, throw three buckets of water on me and went back up, ran through the fire and I went to a house, pull down a curtain and used that to out her. She was on fire on the ground,” Jones recalled as he spoke to the T&T Guardian on Thursday.
Jones and his younger brother, Jeremiah, 24, are now being hailed by the Lahore Road, San Juan, community as heroes for their selfless act of saving the lives of Theodore-Hospedales, her husband and one-year-old baby Rukeia Bruce.
Theodore-Hospedales’ son, Hezekiah, unfortunately did not make it out alive.
But even as his efforts were being applauded by the people in his village, Jones, who is fondly called Jerry by friends, said yesterday he would do it all again if he had to but the next time he would place Hezekiah on his back while he held Rukeia in his arms.
“I kept screaming at them to follow me, follow me. When I saw that the fire, which had come from over the hill, spread to beneath us and was coming up on us, I said to mysel like we trap because the fire was all around us like a big circle. I ran and grabbed the baby from the woman and kept screaming at them to follow me,” Jones recalled yesterday.
“But like when they running, the boy may have tripped and fall because I heard the mother screaming out for him. I kept running but screaming and looking back at them but the smoke was too thick and the fire was coming closer and closer,” he added.
Jones, who operates a small parlor, said shortly before noon on Wednesday, he was approached by Theodore-Hospedales, who requested a cutlass to cut a track for a bush fire to run along. He said he eventually decided to trek up the steep hill to assist the young mother.
“When I went up I didn’t see any fire, so we both were cutting the track and clearing the land but then suddenly the fire came from over the hill and spread to a house below us and the high breeze was blowing the fire upwards to us, trapping us,” he recalled.
“Everything happened very quickly but me and my brother still tried we best to save everybody.”
Firefighters from the San Juan Fire Station who responded to the call later found Hezekiah’s burnt body lying in a hole in the ground in a foetal position.
Jones said he strongly believed the vehicles which were parked along the roadway delayed firefighters trying to reach the actual bush fire and extinguished it on time.
Hezekiah’s death was the second in the past week as a result of a bush fire.
On Good Friday, senior forestry officer, Keith Campbell, 54, died after being severely burnt in a bush fire off Lady Chancellor Road, St Ann’s. His colleagues — Kernarine Carrington and Jamal Bain — were also burnt but survived.
A 92-year-old man died in a road traffic accident last Sunday after his son reportedly crashed due to poor visibility caused by a bush fire in Rio Claro.
According to police reports, Sowdgan Rajnauth, 92, of Ecclesville, Rio Claro, was being driven by his 31-year-old grandson, Israel Khan, along the Tabaquite Road when the accident occurred.
Police said Khan crashed into an oncoming car heading in the opposite direction around 5:15 pm after he was blinded by thick smoke from a nearby bushfire.
Speaking at yesterday’s police press briefing, head of the Highway Patrol Unit, Superintendent Mathura Singh, confirmed the incident. He emphasised, however, that the accident was not as a result of excessive speed.