Deadly fire deliberately set by prisoners – fire service

Camp Street Prison riot

By Shemuelfanfair

The findings from the investigation into the fatal Camp Street Prison fire are in and it has revealed that

Fire Service Investigator Andrew Holder testifying on Friday
Fire Service Investigator Andrew Holder testifying on Friday

prisoners were indeed responsible for the March 3 deadly blaze.
Station Officer of the Guyana Fire Service, Andrew Holder, who led the investigation into the fire, told the Commission of Inquiry on Friday that after careful and meticulous examination of the fire scene, he concluded that the fire emanated from inside of the Camp Street facility.
“Scientifically corroborating witness statements with the data from the physical assessment of the structure, along with the dictates of fire engineering science, it is my conclusion that this fire occurred as a result of a prisoner or more than one prisoner setting fire to a mattress or mattresses within the prison walls,” Holder stated.
In relation to Fire Chief Marlon Gentle’s account of the suspicious deaths of two inmates who perished from causes other than the fire, the investigation revealed an account where an inmate and a relative supposedly “jook up somebody” in the Capital A block of the penitentiary.
The fire investigator said he conducted interviews with inmates housed in the Capital A block prior to and during the blaze. From the testimonies Holder obtained, he gathered the inmates’ account of being told to evacuate the building while another recalled hearing the orders to “lock the door”.
One of the inmates he interviewed related his experience of feeling his eyes and skin burning, which caused him to run to the back of the building in a bid to reach safety.
“The fire eventually had a natural flow pattern and quickly engulfed nearby combustibles in its path such as mattress, bed sheets, clothing,” the Station Officer observed.
Commissioners were told that this is the “flash-over” phenomenon which Holder termed “a dangerous state” and said was responsible for the “rapid oxidisation of the enclosed structure and its contents.”
He noted that as a fire grows, it rises and flash over occurs. Holder further explained that prisoners were exposed to heat intensity of 500-600 degrees Celsius which would caused dizziness, breathing problems, suffocation and after being exposed to it for some amount of time, they would have become unconscious. He also explained that smoke and heat deplete oxygen supply which was the case in Capital A.
Earlier in his testimony to the Commission, the investigator explained that upon his arrival on the scene, he observed the firemen had the situation under control and from then on, he took an “observatory role”. He described the riot scenes as very “chaotic” and likened the situation to that of a “warzone”.
“Prisoners were very high in emotions. On that day I entertained the thought that anybody in a uniform looking like mine was considered an enemy,” he noted in reference to the Joint Services present.
He however observed that he did not see any prisoner behaving violently towards any firefighter as most of them were “secured within their cells behaving in very irate manner.”
Holder in his recount also posited that he saw burnt bodies lying on the floor at various locations within Capital A.
He said he also observed that at least two separate points in the structure the fires were lit; the first one being the Northern door and the other at the very location when he entered Capital A.
He also confirmed the account of other fire service witnesses that the heat would have caused the metal to expand. The investigator however posited that he did not think that the fire at the door would have caused such intensity to prevent the door from being opened.
Under cross-examination, Holder posited that when he conducted the investigation, he did not experience the burning sensations from tear-gas smoke. He also stated that a prisoner official related that prison officers did not use tear gas on Thursday.
When questioned further, Holder conceded that tear gas smoke may have been a contributory factor to the blaze as it has chemical gases but cautioned that the use of tear gas canisters were not within his realm of expertise. The Inquiry was adjourned and will resume on Monday.