Owner suspects arson – Fire guts section of Back Street building

POSTED: 08/23/12 2:01 PM

St. Maarten – Just as residents were expecting a tropical storm they got a fire instead, when a section of the Kary’s Guest House building became engulfed by flames on Wednesday morning.

Kary’s Guesthouse is located at the intersection of Back Street and Manzinilla Street and contained seven rooms for rent on its top floor. The New Age Printery and Zion Deliverance Ministries Church were housed below. The militancy of the citizens certainly aided in controlling the inferno.

The fire started around 4:00 a.m. and quickly gutted two vacant rooms, which were said to contain no flammable materials at the back of the building. None of the rooms for rent at the front of the building contained kitchenettes, only beds, television sets and fans, owner Mervin Scott said. He suspects that the fire was the work of an arsonist.

“Somebody started this fire. There was nothing in that room to cause the fire. The house that burnt was empty and there were four other 4 x 2 rooms. One of them has some cleaning products, the other contained a washing machine that was not plugged in and the other had some tools on the floor. There was nothing in there to start no fire. I know my place, so I know somebody started that fire,” he shouted.

He added that, “If it had started from the front of the building, I would have said ok, it may have been electrical because we have a panel box there. But it started in the back which was empty. So I know for sure somebody had a hand in this,” Scott reiterated.

Scott had been running the building for 18 months now since his father died. He said that since he had assumed ownership of the property, he had only gotten into a conflict with one group of people.

“I had a dispute with some people, yes but I don’t know if they push it that far. But they can’t keep me down; as long as I have life I will continue. So whatever they try, they just make me get bigger because I will pay the insurance and move on from there,” he declared.

One of the two occupants in the building at the time, may have been the first to witness the fire, but did nothing to avert, what could have turned into a major disaster.

“I woke up and the smoke was killing me in my nose. I decided to come outside to see what it was. When I came outside, I saw the smoke but I was in so much shock, I didn’t say anything to anybody. I just walked back inside and went to bed.”

It was only half hour after he heard a commotion in the building that the man said that he alighted from his bed again, this time to help with containing the blaze.

The other guest quickly screamed for help in trying to get all his important documents into a black plastic bag.

Four fire tenders responded to the scene. But none of the firefighters went into action immediately.  For more than 1 hour, only two public spirited citizens could be seen on the roof of Kary’s Guesthouse attempting to douse the flames.

Firefighters demanded that the men come down from the roof to which they responded, “Until we see somebody come up here and help, we are not coming down.”

About two hours after the fire started one of the fire tenders entered Manzinilla Street via Cannegieter Street and released its ladder that had a hose attached to fight the blaze.

One of the young men fighting the blaze head-on was Jose Rovelet.

“These people are jokers, cartoon characters and comic books. I was much closer than them but they refused to do anything. We kept pleading with them and all they would say is they don’t have any water,” he said angrily.

At 188 Back Street, the building next to Kary’s Guesthouse belonged to Frances Rovelet.  Under threat of fire and with extensive water damage already, the senior citizen rallied her grandsons to save their building which previously was known as José’s Guesthouse.

“We weren’t making any money to pay for insurance so I stopped the insurance from 2004. This is not the first time that my building was under threat of fire. A few years ago, we had a fire downstairs due to electrical shortage. But that was just one room now we have to fight to save a whole building,” Rovelet said while lifting mattresses to a safer area.

It was her grandson, José, who braved the heat, to fight the blaze frontally on the roof of his neighbors building.

Curious onlookers and those concerned for the safety of their own properties converged on Back Street to witness the inferno.

“It got to be that they want the building to burn down,” some onlookers chanted as they watched the fire licked various sections of the roof while the water hose was pointed in one direction only.

The maintenance man for Kary’s Guesthouse, Richard frantically attempted to get the attention of the fire fighters. With firsthand knowledge of each section of the building, he actively directed them to risky areas, but no one paid him much attention.

“Over half an hour I am up out here and up to now none of them attempt to fight the fire. They are just walking like robot around the place,” Richard decried.

From 1995, after Hurricane Luis, Richard said that he had worked for three generations of owners of the property repairing the building. He like the building’s owner, suspects that the fire was deliberately set.

“This building never had an electrical problem, this is no electrical problem. This is something else, I fear the worse.”

Close to 8:00 am, the Fire Department with the help of public spirited citizens extinguished the flames. There were no reports of physical injuries.




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