The parents of a group of children yesterday questioned why they were being accused of throwing a scratch bomb into an upholstery workshop, leading to a fire which left 11 Couva residents homeless on Divali night.
Speaking to the T&T Guardian yesterday, the mother of one of the children, who wished not to be named, said it was unfair for her children and nephews to be blamed for causing the fire.
The fire victims are Michael Rampersad, 61; his sons Roger, 37 and Jimmy, 36; Jimmy’s wife Videya Lalla, 34 and their four children ages 13, 12, 10 and seven and Lalla’s brother Daryl Ramnarace. Two tenants who were renting at the Rampersad’s residence—Kurt Aldolphus and Anderson Bedeau—also lost everything in the blaze. Adolphus has been renting a one-room self-contained apartment for the past year, while Bedeau said he began staying there for the last four months.
Jimmy’s oldest daughter is a Carapichaima East Secondary School pupil while his other three children attend the Mc Bean Hindu Primary School.
The incident took place at Baksh Settlement Extension 1, off Deonarine Junction, at about 6.45 pm on Tuesday.
Speaking with the T&T Guardian, Jimmy said he was at home with one of his sons when neighbours called out to him saying his father’s upholstery workshop was on fire. He blamed the fire on a group of children who were allegedly playing with scratch bombs and fireworks on the street.
Jimmy said during last year’s Divali celebrations there was a similar incident when children allegedly again threw fireworks into his father’s workshop which caused a small fire.
“We managed to out that and we tired beg them to stop that, look what they did. Now, this year, the same children’s play with these dangerous things now caused our home to be burnt down leaving all of us homeless and with nothing,” Jimmy said.
However, the mother of one of the children challenged this claim, saying they were all in the front yard liming when they noticed the workshop on fire.
“We don’t know what caused it and it is wrong for them to blame the children. We tried to out the fire and I myself called Michael to tell him that his house was on fire. And I was the one who called the fire officers,” the emotional woman said.
The woman’s brother said he attempted to out the fire with a hose he had pulled from his yard.
“I grabbed the hose and tried to out it and with buckets upon buckets of water we couldn’t. In about 20 minutes the fire spread and destroyed the homes. It is a sad thing, luckily no one died in the blaze.
“But, you can’t accuse people so…how they can accuse the children?” the children’s uncle said.
The mother added: “So then we are mad parents to give the children fireworks then? The children were playing with fun snaps and starlight right in our yard…they were not on the road and they did not throw anything in the workshop. But you can’t accuse people so—how they can accuse the children.”
Asked if they knew about last year’s incident which was alleged to have been caused by the same children’s play, the mother replied: “I don’t know anything about that.”
A neighbour, who wished not to be identified, claimed he saw “a lot of cleaning up taking place at the time the fire broke out.”
“All I can say is that when the fire was going on people were busy sweeping up and picking up fireworks and starlight paper from the yard right next door to Michael and them. I also heard that the children were being told to ‘shut up’ and don’t say anything but, in all this, I hope good sense prevails …that’s all I can say…I not going to call anybody name.”
However, Michael, in similar words to his son, said he strongly believes the children were the cause of the destruction. He said he was doing upholstery jobs for about seven customers, including a popular restaurant and lounge in the Couva area.
“All the people’s chairs for the restaurant and people’s couch sets burnt in the fire and Christmas is right around the corner. This here is very unfortunate and sad…I sweat and toiled day and night for years to work for what I have and in minutes everything gone.”
Jimmy said he and his wife spent approximately $150,000 to build their new home, which is an annexe to his father’s main house. He added that he also took out $17,000 worth of furniture and appliances to furnish his home.
“I am still paying the instalments. My daughter passed for a new school and her books and uniform alone cost $3,000. I worked very hard to ensure that my children have everything that they needed and more.”
Ramnarace said while they understand accidents happen there has been no apology from the parents of the children.
“It just so strange that no one come and say they are sorry at least.”
His sentiments were also expressed by both Jimmy and Michael.
Yesterday, officials from the Disaster Management Unit of the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation assessed the scene. However, before they can proceed further in assisting the victims they will have to wait until fire prevention officers complete their investigations.
Anyone wishing to help the family can call them at 318-4527, 487-2999 and/or 369-2319.