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Man perishes in house fire

A fifty-year-old man died this morning in a house fire and four others were displaced as a result. The fire reportedly began sometime around 8:30 in the morning on Gordon Street in Belize City. The two storey house that was destroyed is located behind another wooden house in the same yard. Two of three tenants of the upper floor were the first to notice the smoke. They told us that despite their efforts, they were unable to stop the fire from spreading and amidst the entire chaos they were unaware that fifty year old Santiago Gonzalez was inside his room. He was not warned of the danger and perished. Here is that story.

Josue Eliseo and his wife were at home this morning and were the first to notice the signs of the fire that destroyed the house they rented at 8467 Gordon Street.

Josue Eliseo

“My wife was cooking at that time and I was watching TV then we saw smoke coming out of our room and I asked here where that smoke was coming from and that I would go down stairs to check. I came downstairs with her to check where it was coming from. We first thought it was from the neighbor’s house but it wasn’t. We saw the smoke coming from the house down stairs but the young man that was living there was not there at that moment, he had gone to the store. He came from the store and I told him that there was a fire in the house because smoke was coming out. He quickly opened the door to see what was happening but the smoke was coming out of his father’s room that is where it was coming from. We then tried to break the door to extinguish the fire. We threw water but we couldn’t do much the smoke was already choking us and we couldn’t bear it much longer so what we did was to come out because we couldn’t do anything because we tried to find a way to extinguish the fire and help. We didn’t have an opportunity to take out our belongings everything was destroyed, our documents everything we had was destroyed.”

The house, located behind another wooden house, is owned by Martin Lemus.

Martin Lemus, House Owner

“I think that started about 8:30 or something but I had left here by 7:30.”

Police contacted the fire department around nine in the morning. Two units were dispatched. The department’s Station Manager Oren Smith said the fire had spread to the upper flat of the building.

Oren Smith, Fire Department Station Manager

“We found the lower flat of a two story wooden structure fully engulfed in flames. The Western half of the upper part of that structure was also engulfed in flames. In front of that structure we had another wooden structure approximately two feet away from the two story wooden structure. The South West section of that structure was also engulfed in flames. Following a brief size up the fire service went into operation to extinguish the fire. The fire was later brought under control and extinguished.”

It was until after the fire was extinguished that authorities realized someone had been trapped inside the house. The other tenants say they were also unaware that their neighbor, fifty year old Santiago Gonzalez was home.

Oren Smith, Fire Department Station Manager

“We were not given any information as to whether anyone was trapped inside the building on our arrival.”

Reporter

“Can you state whether the discovery of this body was the result of smoke inhalation or was the body partially or completely burnt?”

Oren Smith, Fire Department Station Manager

“The body did not appear to have any burn damage on it. I believe that he may have been overcome, I would assume he may have been overcome by smoke inhalation. However an autopsy would confirm the cause of death.”

Josue Eliseo

“We wouldn’t really notice if he was home or not because he would reach sometimes and then sometimes he wouldn’t since he works as a security officer he would not come home sometimes.”

Reporter

“Did you try to check at any time to see if he was there?”

Josue Eliseo

“The smoke, we were suffocating, we didn’t think of taking anything out we didn’t try. What we wanted to do was to extinguish the fire that was the intention but we couldn’t. We couldn’t get in because the smoke was so thick and black. We couldn’t get close to it.”

Reporter

“You couldn’t go back upstairs?

Josue Eliseo

“No we didn’t even know if he was in there.”

Gonzalez, a naturalized Belizean, originally from Guatemala, was renting the room for over six months. He was employed at a construction company in Belize City. His coworker Jose Antonio Suarez says he last spoke with Gonzalez on Tuesday morning.

Jose Antonio Suarez – Coworker

“When I came off the bus I saw him come off. I called him but he never answered me. I touched him on the shoulder and I asked him what? He just told me that he felt bad and I told him to go to the clinic to find out what was wrong. The only words he told me is that ‘I just hope they don’t kill me when I get there.’ I told him I didn’t think so. That is all.”

Reporter

“That was the last time you spoke with him?”

Jose Antonio Suarez Coworker

“Yes.”

Reporter

“What kind of person was he?”

Jose Antonio Suarez – Coworker

“Well we used to work together, he used to be the watchman from here and usually he comes on Saturday and sometimes during the week. We drank softdrinks together, if he didn’t buy I would buy and so. He was a nice person, he would tell me his little stories and nothing else. I knew him as a nice person.”

Reporter

For how long did you know him?

Jose Antonio Suarez – Coworker

“Well about two months.”

Gonzalez’s girlfriend Sandra Oliva says she’s known him for five years and the last she heard from him, he told her he was coming down with a flu.

Sandra Oliva – girlfriend

“He was a man who didn’t interfere with anyone. Humble, helpful. He would help anyone once he could he would.”

Reporter

“Since when did you last speak with him?”

Sandra Oliva – girlfriend

“It’s been three days since I spoke with him over the phone, we usually only contacted each other by phone.”

Reporter:

“You told me earlier that you both had plans?”

Sandra Oliva – girlfriend

“Yes. Well the plan he had was that we would live together, that he wouldn’t rent anymore because he would move into my house.”

A total of five people rented the house; four are left homeless. For his part, Lemus has lost some income and is also faced with additional expenses for the damages to his home.

Martin Lemus – House Owner

“I still have to live there.”

Reporter

“So it’s the people who actually rented from you that don’t have a place now right ?”

Martin Lemus, House Owner

“They have to find a place right now because they don’t have any.”

Reporter

“So you don’t have a place presently?”

Martin Lemus – House Owner

“I have to stay here because it’s not burnt down completely that yellow house there. A part was burnt but I have to try to find something to cover that thing and stay there.”

After recovering from the shocked caused by the news of Gonzalez’s death, Oliva had one request.

Sandra Oliva – girlfriend

“If any of his family members are listening to the news I would like that they contact me to see what we can do to bury him. He told me that he had two daughters in Orange Walk and if anyone is listening they can call me at 622-6403. Please.”

Those affected by the fire told us that the fire department responded swiftly. Authorities says none of the structures were insured. In other news, today Station Manager at the Belize City Fire Department Oren Smith said that their investigations into the fire on Santa Barbara Street in Belize City has concluded and officials found evidence that the fire started as a result of an electrical fault. That fire happened on the night of Sunday, August 6 and claimed the life twenty-month old Tarique Roberts.