Community rushes to support 17 left homeless
A fire ripped through a family compound in George Town shortly after 8 p.m. Friday, leaving 17 people homeless.
“We’ve lost everything,” said Johnny Buttrum as he sifted through the wreckage of his home on Saturday. Passports, cash and treasured family photos all went up in smoke as the compound – a group of adjoining flats, shared by Mr. Buttrum, three of his siblings and their children between ages 1 and 15 – burned to the ground in six minutes Friday evening.
No one was injured in the blaze. The family, and five tenants, were temporarily relocated to the Westin resort.
Meanwhile, an immediate, spontaneous community fundraising effort, organized by Matthew Leslie, of Cayman Islands Brewery, had raised thousands of dollars in donations, clothing, food, and food vouchers for the family by Sunday morning.
Eddie Buttrum, one of the owners of the family compound in Windsor Park, said he was overwhelmed by the community response.
“This proves we are united as a people. I’m so grateful, words can’t explain it. It really is hard times ahead, but we know there is hope with this amount of community support behind us.”
The remnants of the homes were being demolished on Sunday morning by a volunteer demolition crew from Island Waste Carriers.
The Buttrums, who built the wooden structures themselves around 20 years ago, say they plan to rebuild and move back in.
Mr. Leslie said he was called to the scene of the fire by a friend in the area. He posted pictures of the burned-out shell of the building on his Facebook page and organized CayBrew staff and volunteers in a public appeal for help.
“The reaction has been amazing,” he said Saturday afternoon, amid piles of clothes, toys and boxes of food that had steadily accumulated throughout the day.
Two children stopped by with their piggy bank and donated $50 to the cause; another child and her parents stopped in with a box of toys. Kirk Market and Cost U Less were among the local businesses to contribute some $3,000 worth of food and food vouchers during the day.
“The main thing was to get them food, supplies, clothing and cash. Now we have to work with authorities to find them somewhere to live and to help them get the home rebuilt,” said Mr. Leslie, who has promised CayBrew will match the cash donations from the community.
Johnny Buttrum, 43, who works with the Department of Environmental Health, said all of the family’s possessions were lost. When the fire broke out, he was sitting in his room watching karate. He said he ran to get his nephews out of the front room, close to where the blaze started, then came back for his daughters. He tried to battle the fire himself until emergency crews arrived, but the flames were overwhelming and the structure burned in a matter of minutes.
A crowd of neighbors and family members were gathered outside the home Saturday afternoon. The roof of the building had collapsed, doors had fallen in and melted appliances lay amid the wreckage.
Charred gym equipment was scattered about the yard and a charred truck sat in the front driveway.
Johnny Buttrum’s daughters Hanielle, 12, and Janielle, 14, had arrived on the island just this week, visiting from the U.K., where they live with their mother.
“We were playing in the back room and then my dad came through shouting ‘fire, fire’ and we ran outside. It’s a big shock,” said Hanielle.
Sandra Miller, area representative for Windsor Park, said she was coordinating with authorities on behalf of the family to find them temporary housing.
She said, “This is a community where we help each other out. We don’t have much, but we are there for each other.”
The cause of the fire remains unknown. Neither police nor fire officials responded to requests for information over the weekend.