Windsor Park fire: 'Code Red' for the community

A collection of wooden residences in George Town caught fire on Friday evening and burned to the ground. Now, 17 people are homeless. It easily could have been much, much worse. If the blaze had started in the middle of the night, 17 people could have been dead.

First, we offer our condolences to the Buttrums, their relatives, tenants and neighbors in the family compound in Windsor Park. To see your possessions destroyed and your home demolished, and then to be faced with the prospect of rebuilding anew, is among the most arduous of human experiences.

Next, we applaud Matthew Leslie of Cayman Islands Brewery and the volunteers from the Cayman Islands community, who stepped forward immediately with donations of clothing, food, temporary shelter and assistance. This isn’t the first time Mr. Leslie has led a campaign to help his fellows in need, the highest-profile instance of his generosity being his efforts following the shooting of brewery employee Kemar Golding in 2011.

We are sure that public sector officials, from social services, etc., will also be involved in helping the Buttrum family piece their lives back together; however, it must be emphasized that this tragedy may have been an avoidable one, and one that may be, at the very least, an indirect consequence of government negligence. It raises questions about the safety of many other residential structures — scattered throughout the nooks and crannies of the country, “out of sight and out of mind” — which may be inadequate, substandard or downright unsafe.

For the purposes of this editorial, we shall sidestep legal and regulatory issues dealing with the precise language of building codes, inspection regimes and various grandfather clauses — and simply state the following: For 20 years, this particular family has been living in wooden structures they built themselves, structures which on Friday burned to the ground in about six minutes.

It is most fortunate, even miraculous, that nobody was harmed in the fire. This incident should be a five-alarm wake-up call to Cayman officials, and the Cayman community, that we can no longer “look the other way” when we see people living in homes that may be unsafe. The purpose of building codes is to ensure a minimum level of safety for all people. Our officials cannot provide exceptions to basic standards for people of modest means, even if they believe that by doing so they are “doing them a favor.” What they are actually doing is putting them in harm’s way.

If someone cannot afford to build, renovate or reconstruct a home in order to meet minimum safety standards, well, then this is an opportunity for social services to fulfill its mandate. Failing that, the residents must seek accommodations elsewhere. We understand that relocating, especially from family-owned property, is difficult and disruptive, but of far greater importance is the preservation of human life.

As for the Buttrums, they are out of danger, for now. What gives us pause, however, is the assertion that they plan to rebuild their home and move back in.
This time, we hope that they will not be building it alone, and that the construction will be performed by professionals (with the community’s assistance, if need be) and with oversight from the proper authorities. We must ensure that this family did not narrowly escape death just to be placed at risk again.

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  1. Not everyone can afford cement walls and marble floors. Don’t start a new fire that don’t need to be started, If you want really help start a fundraiser and build them what you think the public would want them to have. That is the human thing to do…………

  2. What are the basic legal requirements for landlords in the Cayman Islands? Fire safety, electrical safety, gas safety, an adequate insurance coverage? Was the landlord in compliance? What was the cause of the fire? Who caused the fire? What property owners obligations after a rental property fire? Is landlord responsible for losses from fire damage? How an insurance company will investigate and document the damage since it was demolished?
    Demolishing this building the very next day after the fire looks rather suspicious. What if it was an arson?

  3. I agree with Steve, it they had insurance they wouldn’t be saying that they are going to rebuild it and it definitely would not have been torn down so quickly, they also wouldn’t be looking for donations of building materials. As far as construction materials, Can any new home built in Cayman be stick built these days.