GEORGETOWN –– Firefighters were pushed to the limit, on Monday, by a raging blaze at Gafoor’s Houston Complex that sought to consume everything in its way.
Kaieteur News understands that the inferno started some time around 4 p.m. and raged for well over three hours. It started at bond three then consumed 14 other bonds.
It was obvious that the firefighters did not stand a chance against a fire that was aided by combustibles and heavy winds.
Speaking to the media as the fire destroyed his billion-dollar-investment, Chief Executive Officer of the company Abdool Sattaur Gafoor remained stoic.
The business tycoon said that he was in his office when he was alerted that a fire had begun. However, he admitted that he adopted a nonchalant approach as it was not even in his imagination that the fire was one that serious.
Gafoor said: “I stayed in my office because I didn’t expect it would get this big . . . I then smelt the smoke and I knew it was bigger than I expected.”
He said that upon smelling the smoke, he immediately thought it best to vacate the building and ordered everyone to do the same.
Gafoor told Kaieteur News of his suspicions that the fire might have been electrical in origin. He said that his suspicions were fueled by initial reports he received. However, it was not clear whether the businessman received that information from his employees or firefighting officials.
Firefighters failed to confine the fire to the bond. It later spread throughout the complex.
Gafoor did not blame firefighters for the spread of the fire.
He said that the bonds were fully stocked.
“It would be very, very difficult to contain the fire as some of the items stocked were highly flammable. [Their] efforts have not been successful so far and you can hear the explosions.
Gafoor said that bond three, where the fire started was filled with fishing items like nets and other plastic products.
He said that the nearby bonds had plywood, glass, tiles and electrical supplies.
“Further down, we had the steel items and paints.”
The tycoon said that his losses will amount to billions of dollars. He stated that it would cost some $12 billion to reconstruct the building alone but the materials might be more.
He said that while insurance will have to step in, his troubles go way beyond that. Gafoor seemed concerned about his 530 employees. He said that there will be loss of business and he will have to endure extreme difficulties to get things up and going again.
“It will take us over a year; these things will not be easily replaced and I am not just talking money, but also time.”
Employees were crying and praying; some stared at the blaze in disbelief and others mumbled about being jobless.
There were rumours that an employee was trapped in the bond, but that was later dispelled.
Two construction employees were in another building when the fire spread from the bond. Onlookers shouted, “Run out, run out.” When the employees realized what happened, they sprinted out of the building.
One pregnant staff member said she was employed with Gafoors for over five years. She stated that she was in her office when everyone there started to smell smoke.
“I don’t know what is gonna happen to us. Where are we gonna work now. I can’t believe this. It’s too sudden to believe,” she said, giving way to her tears.
Another young man who said he was a solar technician told Kaieteur News that he has been employed by Gafoor for over seven years. He said that while he felt Gafoor’s pain Monday, he couldn’t help but, “worry about myself”.
The young man said that he liked his job and couldn’t explain
“How it all happened so quickly. I was in another department when I heard an alarm. I left my bag and everything and just run.”
Another employee explained that he was looking for his motorbike that was in the compound but couldn’t find it; he said that he pushed out another bike during his escape.
“I see somebody else own and I push it out. It didn’t mek sense that all two ah we own go down,” said the employee as others tearfully expressed regret about what happened.
Yet, a visibly affected Gafoor maintained his composure. The entrepreneur said, “It is nothing you can do in times of crisis. If I do not maintain composure things tend to get more out of hand and it will only make the employees more emotional.”
What he admitted was that he was not sure how to begin again.
“All records are gone; where do we start? All computers are gone, all books burnt, everything is just gone, gone.”
Both firefighters and the police had their hands full, literally.
The fire appeared to be moving too fast and wild for the firemen to contain. Five tenders were on scene and no less than 17 fighters operated. They were able to source water from a nearby canal.
As firefighters sought to contain the blaze that maneuvered its way around the building, the glass facade started to shatter, scaring away onlookers.
And police struggled to prevent looters from running into the blazing building. Some policemen were seen chasing away dozens of men from the area.
Initially, when the police showed up with their “big guns”, persons from the crowd shouted: “Like guns can out fire.”
However, with time, they saw the need for the “big guns”. Looters eventually sought to enter the building from the wharf area.
When employees tried to hurry gas tanks out of the building, persons were heard shouting, “Let us help; let us help. They even told Gafoor: “Big man open the door let we help you.”
The Gafoor’s Complex housed one of the largest bonds in Guyana.
The company recently celebrated 63 years of existence in the construction industry, after a humble beginning in 1953.