A blind pensioner was among several tenants of a building in Port-of-Spain who had to climb through a window to escape a fiery death yesterday.
Angelo Joseph, 65, was in his apartment in the building on the corner of George and Independence Square North in Port-of-Spain around 1.50 pm yesterday when another tenant allegedly set the building on fire.
The fire caused traffic to back up along Independence Square as a large crowd gathered to look on as fire officers worked to extinguish the blaze. Police sought to control the crowd and several tenants who threatened violence over the destruction of their belongings.
In a brief interview, Joseph, who has been blind since 2013 due to complications from diabetes, said he smelt smoke and heard a crackling sound coming from the floor beneath him while he was saying his midday prayers.
“I heard some crackling beneath me, that’s downstairs and the smoke started to intensify. When I opened my door I realized is fire somewhere. I felt the heat to my face,” Joseph told Guardian Media.
He said he initially tried to go down the building’s staircase but the smoke was too thick.
Clad in only a pair of three-quarter pants and a pair of sneakers and with his cane to guide him, Joseph made his way to a window to escape.
“I get to the window and I climb over. The window is about six feet off the floor so I jumped over. I pushed my body over and walked up a little ramp to get myself on the roof…so I know once I am on top of the roof I am fairly safe,” he said.
Shortly after, another tenant fleeing the blaze took a similar path and found Joseph on the building’s roof. The man guided him across to the roof of an adjacent building, where the two were able to escape using the fire escape.
According to Joseph, there were at least eight other apartments in the building – which was identified for commercial use by large signs on the outside.
He said the ‘apartments’ were small and cramped, adding, “Is just like everybody has a cell. It is just that you have a key for your own cell, the way it was it became like a ghetto.”
Acting Chief Fire Officer Marlon Smith visited the scene and signalled an intention to launch an investigation into the conditions at the building.
“At the entrance of the building there is a clear sign that says it is a commercial building so clearly if residents were inside, it was contrary to what was stated outside the building. We are focusing on fire fighting at this time. We will have to look at that thereafter,” Smith said.
He said when his officers arrived on the scene, they were told there were several people trapped inside.
But those people were able to get themselves to safety and Smith said the blaze was controlled quickly.
He said a cause had not yet been determined.
But up to late last evening, Besson Street Police said a 41-year-old hairdresser was in custody for allegedly setting fire to the building where she rents space for her hair salon.
According to police, the woman got into an argument with the landlord of the building after her salon was burgled on Monday night.
Police were called in around 1.15 pm yesterday after the building’s landlord reported being attacked by the woman.
The landlord said the woman’s flat iron and several hair products were stolen on Monday night. Police were told the hairdresser demanded the landlord either ‘get back’ the stolen items or replace them.
When the landlord refused, the hairdresser allegedly physically assaulted her before setting the building on fire.
The landlord was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital for treatment while the hairdresser was arrested.
She is expected to be formally charged in the coming days.
PC Chinpire of the Besson Street Police Station is continuing investigations.