EDITORIAL – ‘Playing with fire’: The lessons from Cruz Lane

Eldon Walton, left, and Vann Webb lost all of their belongings in the fire. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

“I was just screaming ‘my house is on fire, my house is on fire.’”

—Samantha Bodden

Except for their lives, the families lost everything.

In just minutes, fires ravaged a number of side-by-side homes on Cruz Lane, leaving their inhabitants homeless, helpless, and bewildered.

Cruz Lane, we can be certain, is not on any visitor’s tour of the Cayman Islands. It is a short spur off Bodden Road in a disadvantaged neighborhood tucked behind Kirk Home Centre. It is the kind of neighborhood that nobody notices and rarely makes the news – unless there is a crime, a fire or, in this instance, most likely both.

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No one could have saved these dwellings. The Cayman Islands Fire Services certainly tried and, truth be told, they performed valiantly. From the time of the initial alarm, they required only 17 minutes to give the “all clear.”

But even 17 minutes was more time than the families had. These were highly flammable wooden structures – construction susceptible to nothing more than a match.

And that match was supplied, according to family members, by an arsonist. They say they know who did it.

In the aftermath, police are investigating what may be a crime of massive proportions. If those inhabitants had succumbed to flame or smoke, the result of a purposely set fire, the perpetrators could have been facing charges of mass murder or manslaughter.

Even in the present circumstances (no lives were lost) charges of attempted murder do not seem far-fetched.

In any case, what happened on Cruz Lane in the early morning hours of July 31 should raise a four-alarm warning throughout our community.

As everyone knows, there are literally hundreds of shanties, shacks and slum dwellings throughout Grand Cayman that appear to be dangerous firetraps.

We are not fire or building inspectors but we would surmise that far too many of these structures are overcrowded, have “extension cord wiring,” and lack smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and other rudimentary life-saving equipment. These substandard structures simply cannot be up to “code.”

Likewise, we know that Cayman’s most respectable and responsible developers such as the Darts, Fraser Wellon and Brian Butler all must meet stringent fire and safety requirements before they are issued a “certificate of occupancy” for their buildings. This is a good thing and signals why Cayman enjoys a reputation as the “best of the rest” of the countries in the region.

But those good safety practices inexorably should lead government to the issue of the lack of building and fire code inspections and enforcement for the many ramshackle (but occupied) houses that are present in every district.

The conflagration on Cruz Lane, thankfully, did not lead to the loss of life, but it has now put the spotlight on a most intractable and too-often invisible reality: the dangerous condition of too much of our housing stock.

We are literally playing with fire.

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  1. Of course my heart goes out to these families who have lost just about everything in this recent fire. For most people this is an unthinkable event in their lives. For those who have experience it, especially young children, and youth, this will have a life long effect.

    Hopefully we will see agencies such as the Red Cross, and other disaster support organizations step up to the plate and assist these families with temporary housing, clothing and assistance. I know the Caymanian population as a whole will do so. After all a God fearing Christian society knows a main purpose of Church and Community is to help those in need.

    In regard to Government, rather than establishing new departments, commissions and agencies, perhaps it should focus on responsibly managing the systems, departments, and programs it already has. Then all living in Cayman can have a safe and productive life.