CAY HILL–The raging fire on Mary’s Fancy Plantation on Sunday evening started inside the hurricane-damaged former plantation house. Thanks to the historic building’s thick walls and the absence of strong wind, the fire did not spread in the area, said firefighter Shanell James, Officer on Duty at the time of the fire report.
Central Dispatch received the call around 8:00pm, James recalls. “I then directed one fire truck to the area for an assessment of the situation. The incident was immediately upgraded to ‘large fire’ and that is when I, as Officer on Duty, deployed the other trucks available and we rushed to the scene.”
After the fire, there is almost nothing left that bears witness to the old Mary’s Fancy Plantation Hotel, with a gallery for guests.
One of the three new fire trucks which the St. Maarten Fire department in Cay Hill acquired in September 2021, financed by the Netherlands through the World Bank, malfunctioned on Sunday morning while firefighters responded to a call about a gas leak at a private home in Belaire. James then instructed firefighters to use one of the old fire trucks.
At the scene, James led the reconnaissance of the terrain. He quickly assessed the situation: seat of the fire inside the building, clear dark sky, very little wind, no signs of persons trapped in the building, no electricity at the site and no running water nor access to a pond.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the former plantation house became a hideout for drug addicts.
One of the new fire trucks, which is narrower than the Fire Department’s older trucks, was able to manoeuvre between the walls of the small cobblestone bridge across from Emilio Wilson Park and reach close to the former plantation house. Firefighters started to extinguish the fire with the 1,500 litres of water available from the truck. Meanwhile, another fire truck raced to St. Johns, where a fire hydrant is located.
As soon as the fire truck full of water returned to the scene, one of the other two trucks left for St. Johns. The three trucks drove back and forth several times. “This was the only way to keep a steady flow of water to extinguish the fire, and it worked: we had the fire contained within two hours,” said James. “Then we focused on those places where it continued to smoulder and fire could flare up again. Soon after we completely put out of the fire.”
The Officer on Duty returned to the scene on Monday for inspection of the damage after the fire. “The thick walls of the plantation house helped to contain the fire, but the zinc roof completely collapsed,” said James, who had anticipated this on Sunday night. “It was risky for the firefighters to go inside, we kept moving around the structure.”
Although he has witnessed many tragic events during the 13 years he has served the St. Maarten Fire Department, the devastation of Mary’s Fancy does not leave James unmoved. “Another monument gone,” he said.
The Fire Department cannot say anything about the cause of the fire. “That’s not our responsibility,” James said. “We report to the St. Maarten Police Force, their detectives will investigate further.”
The firefighters’ main focus is preventing a fire from spreading, explained James, also Officer on Duty on January 29, 2023, the day the fire at entertainment complex District 721 on Welfare Road in Simpson Bay broke out. “When we arrived at the scene, we saw immediately that we would not be able to save the District 721 bars and restaurants. Our team focused on the adjacent buildings, aiming to prevent the fire from spreading. And we managed to do that, we saved the other buildings.”
The fire at Mary’s Fancy is the third large fire of 2023, following the fire at District 721 and a fire near the platform of the zipline on Sentry Hill in February. The series of events is remarkable, said James. “But it doesn’t surprise me. I know from experience that most fires happen around this time of year. Don’t ask me why. My task is to put out the fires.”
Bron: Daily Herald