With over 20 firefighters and about seven fire tenders at the scene, what had appeared to be a small fire spiralled out of control on Wednesday evening and completely destroyed Sharon’s Mall at Lot 154 King and Charlotte Streets, Georgetown. The massive blaze destroyed several businesses located inside the four-storey building.
The fire was reported to the Central Fire Station just after 17:00h. That station is a stone’s throw from the Mall. Firefighters responded immediately, but when they arrived, the third and fourth floors of the building were engulfed in thick smoke, and persons were ordered to evacuate the building. Some business owners were, however, reluctant to do so, as they insisted on going back inside to save their belongings.
At around 18:00h, Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn arrived at the scene. In an interview with the media, he said that at around 11:00h on Wednesday, staffers on one of the floors smelled smoke.
“They didn’t react to it, and maybe they presumed that it was just a passing thing. But somewhere around four-thirty, five, the fire broke out.”
Minister Benn explained that the building is a steel and concrete structure with drop ceilings, and the fire was moving slowly along the reticulation.
“And that is what is making it difficult. It is difficult but they [the firefighters] are working at it.”
Billows of thick smoke consumed the third and fourth floors of the building, and at around 19:00h, those floors burst into flames.
The ravaging fire quickly spread through various parts of the structure, the stubborn blaze sending nearby power lines sparking. Glass windows on the building shattered within seconds, falling to the ground, while burnt materials from the building blew into the air, sending persons, even the firefighters, running for cover.
The intensity of the blaze made it very difficult for firefighters to enter the building, and they had to continue their battle with the raging fire outdoors. The third and fourth floors burnt for over one and a half hours even as firefighters poured water on the building.
Shortly after several utility poles began sparking in the area, a crew from the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) arrived and disconnected electricity from the building. As persons who owned businesses in the mall got word about the fire, they arrived at the scene.
Many of them were overheard criticising the Fire Service for its handling of the blaze.
“The fire was very small, was bare smoke, and after they [the firefighters] took so long, that is why the smoke and fire decided to start spreading. I think this could have been avoided if they had worked faster.”
“The firefighters came prompt, but they didn’t have any water,” one of them expressed.
At around 20:00h, it seemed like the firefighters had contained the blaze. But there was more to come. A mighty fire began consuming the second floor of the mall, and within seconds, the entire building was engulfed. From the outside, it was unclear to determine whether the first floor was also burning.
Ranks of the Guyana Police Force were also on the scene ensuring the smooth flow of traffic. Several fire hydrants and canals in the area were utilised. At around 21:00h, firefighters were still trying to contain the blaze, which lit up the night sky. With the aid of long steel ladders, the firefighters climbed onto nearby buildings to douse the structure with water.
By then the only thing left standing was the building’s steel frame. There were no reports of anyone being injured in the fire.
Firefighters were able to stop the inferno from spreading to nearby businesses, some of which were scorched on the outside. Several iconic buildings, such as the Supreme Court and City Hall, are located in close proximity to Sharon’s Mall.
Although the cause of the fire was not immediately known, it is suspected to be electrical in origin. Losses are estimated in the millions of dollars.
Minister Benn disclosed that there are several issues to be examined with the construction of the building, including the use of fire alarms, the provision of a sprinkler system, and other fire safety measures. He underscored the need for such safety measures once buildings “get over a couple of floors high.”
From all indications, it appears as though none of these fire prevention measures was in place. Several parts of Charlotte, King, and Regent Streets and Avenue of the Republic were closed for the firefight.
Sharon’s Mall housed several boutiques, makeup studios, snackettes, and law offices. Scores of persons lined the streets of Georgetown to witness the fire.