KINGSTON ––Fifty-four-year-old ex-soldier Howard “Soljie” Thompson lost his life, trapped in flames at around midnight Tuesday as he tried unsuccessfully to save his neighbour Ann-Marie Green and her nine-year-old son, Jordan Marsh, from a fire that engulfed the multi-storey building in which they lived at 80 Church Street in downtown Kingston.
Thompson’s friend Yvonne Campbell, who was with him when the fire started downstairs, said “Soljie” died doing one of the things he did best — helping those in need.
She remembered her friend and neighbour as a kind, quiet man. She added that he could have escaped as many others did, but chose to rush back into danger to help Green and her son as they cried for help.
She said she knew “Soljie” from a previous association, but that he had only lived at the premises for a few months. Campbell said the last kind act of kindness from her friend was when he applied a dressing to her foot, which had been accidentally pierced by a nail. “Him get a green banana and mi have some bissy, and him set it up for me, and tie it on my foot, and wi sit down a reason. Then mi hear [a man] seh, ‘fire, fire!’. We ran out into the passage [and] mi run towards a staircase to get even my clothes; pure heat was coming up, and mi run back and him kick off a door at the side. Then him [Thompson] remember a guy who we know sleep dead, and him go back inside and take him out, and send him through the back from upstairs,” Campbell recounted.
She said that it was after assisting a second person that Thompson heard Green and her son crying for help.
“Him head back to dem . . . all mi a call him, because the place start engulf in pure flames now, him still go after dem. But it look like when him get to their room it was too much, it look like the smoke get to him, and by the time him turn to go back to the staircase, the wall tear off, and trap him,” she said.
“Soljie was quiet . . . him loving, and love children. Mi sorry him dead, him too nice,” Campbell said, tossing a cigarette which she had barely smoked.
Meanwhile, Green did not live to celebrate her 48th birthday which would have been Wednesday. Her daughter Chantol Ellis was seen trying to hold back tears as she stood further down Church Street with relatives. She told the Jamaica Observer that her mother was originally from Jones Town, and that she was a hard-working woman who was always seeking a means to earn an honest bread.
“Mommy was jovial . . . she was hard-working; when you talk about work etiquette she is always punctual, and interested in working, [and] she always wants something to do; she is always up and about,” the young woman said.
Some residents claimed that the fire was caused by an electrical overload in one of the ground floor apartments, but up to press time the fire service — which said it received the distress call at 10:55 p.m. Tuesday — was not able to not confirm how the blaze started.
Members of the York Park, Rollington Town, Trench Town, and Half-Way-Tree fire stations carried out cooling down operations, which lasted well into Wednesday. No estimate of the losses was immediately available.
Maria Bobb, who manages the property and has lived there for 30 years, said the building was a former hotel that had fallen into disrepair. The owner reportedly fell ill and now lives in a nursing home.
Downtown Kingston has been the unfortunate site of a number of major fires, which have dislocated dozens of people over the years. Most recently five houses on Barry Street were burnt in February, leaving 100 people, including children, homeless.
Less than a month before that another massive fire on Duke Street destroyed several dwellings, while another at a tenement yard on Mark Lane in December resulted in about 80 people losing their homes.
Successive governments have mooted a redevelopment agenda for downtown Kingston with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) last year announcing a $100-million “festival marketplace” as part of the plan.
Then UDC Chairman KD Knight said that the agency was looking to collaborate with the National Housing Trust for “transformative improvement” of the housing stock downtown.
That part of the capital has become the site of several dilapidated tenement yards which are structurally unsafe and considered fire hazards.