Fire victim: ‘We’ve lost everything’

Community rushes to support 17 left homeless

The community responds in a big way to help 17 people left homeless after a fire at a housing compound in Windsor Park on Friday night.

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. 

CayBrew owner Matthew Leslie handed over thousands of dollars

CayBrew owner Matthew Leslie handed over thousands of dollars’ worth of community donations of clothing, food and other essentials to the victims of the fire on Saturday. – PHOTOS: JAMES WHITTAKER

The group of homes in Windsor Park were left a burned-out shell by the fire on Friday evening.

The group of homes in Windsor Park were left a burned-out shell by the fire on Friday evening.

Seventeen people were left homeless after the fire.

Seventeen people were left homeless after the fire.

Johnny Buttrum and his daughters Hanielle, 12, and Janielle, 14, survey the wreckage of their George Town home on Saturday.

Johnny Buttrum and his daughters Hanielle, 12, and Janielle, 14, survey the wreckage of their George Town home on Saturday. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

A demolition crew on Sunday clears the wreckage of the burned-out building.

A demolition crew on Sunday clears the wreckage of the burned-out building. – PHOTO: MATTHEW LESLIE

Margaret McLaughlin and Siri Russell volunteered to help sort through donations at CayBrew on Saturday.

Margaret McLaughlin and Siri Russell volunteered to help sort through donations at CayBrew on Saturday. PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

The group of homes at Windsor Park were destroyed by the fire on Friday evening.

The group of homes at Windsor Park were destroyed by the fire on Friday evening. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY
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  1. The community response was indeed overwhelming.
    But… The entire residential building that got burned down in 6 minutes was made of what? A straw? It was allowed to be occupied and rented out?! Fire codes compliance anyone? And why was it demolished before the official investigation?

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  2. I happy to know that everyone is safe from the fire, and much happier to see the love and support for the victims in this disaster. Miss Bell i agree with you, and why is the police and fire department not commenting on this fire , not even a press conference .

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  3. How could even a stick built home burn to the ground in only six minutes. There has to be more to this story surrounding the fire. However I am glad that no one was injured, sad that they lost everything but things can be replaced not people.

    They are surely going to have a hard time dealing with planning as I am sure things have changed in the last 20 years since these structures were built.

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