Source: Guardian TT
TRINIDAD — A five-year-old autistic boy who was praying with a lighted candle for the release of his imprisoned father, accidentally set fire to his family’s four-apartment home and his grandmother’s home next door, leaving 28 members of his extended family homeless.
The child’s aunt said his father has been imprisoned for 19 months and his mother had been praying daily with a lighted candle for his release. She said the child, who copies everything his mother does, climbed up to where the candle was kept and while praying for his dad accidentally dropped it on the bed, where his 11-month-old brother was asleep. The bed caught afire and quickly spread to the wooden and concrete structure, completely destroying the two family houses and scorching a third at Bayshore, Marabella.
Family members described as a Christmas miracle the sparing of all lives, especially the children, including the five-year-old, his sleeping baby brother and another autistic child, six-year-old Asa Grant, who was watching television, unaware that the house was on fire.
San Fernando mayor Junia Regrello, who visited the distressed families, praised the community who abandoned all of their Boxing Day celebrations to help contain the fire and give support to the fire victims. He also heaped praises on the Fire Service for their efficiency and competence in getting the fire under control.
“Because the way these houses are built and the way how the community is close, it could have been a disaster and the entire community could have been wiped out this morning,” Regrello said.
Regrello said he had already asked the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) to provide mattresses and meals to the families, who will be housed in facilities at the nearby basketball court in the interim. He said members of the business community have also committed to providing building materials which should be delivered by 9 am tomorrow.
Nandy Williams, mother of Asa and Tesfar, who is four, said although they lost everything but no one was hurt.
Williams explained that her blind grandmother, Agnes Tannis, who owns the house and lives in the upstairs apartment with her son Gerard Joseph, called all family members outside early yesterday morning to celebrate Boxing Day in the yard.
“Granny called out all of us to lime with her in the front. Like she know something was going to happen but she couldn’t tell us. She called everybody out of the house and I with my stupid self send the child back inside to put on clothes, because his ding ding was outside.”
Williams said her five-year-old autistic nephew was naked and she sent him to their basement apartment to get dressed, because his mother had gone to a nearby shop and left her two children in her (Williams) care. This was around 10 am.
She said within minutes, one of her nieces, Kalina Attong, seven, ran outside shouting, “Aunty, aunty, the house on fire.”
“I ran inside and dashed some water on the flames. Then I heard the baby bawling and saw him running towards me. I just raff him and my nephew, run outside and went to the homes to see what I could save.”
Williams said she had no idea that her son, Asa, was still in the burning building. She explained that she went into her apartment to save a television which was close to the door. “I spent $6,000 for the TV, so I tried to save it. When I went to pull out the TV, I hear my child saying, ‘mummy, mummy, you going with the TV. The house was pitch black and I did not know anybody was inside with me. When I heard that, I just forget the TV and I grabbed my child and run across to my mother’s house to try and save what we could.”
Her sister, Kay Greene, a mother of five, said all she was able to save was some photographers, which she clutched close to her chest.
Green’s mother, Natalie Williams, said she was not at home when the fire started, having gone to her workplace to clarify whether they had to work today or tomorrow (Wednesday).
“I got a call and I will tell you I stopped to take a drink of Puncheon to stable my heart. I am an alcoholic and I had stopped drinking, but with this fire, I take up a drink before I could come and see what was happening. I know they holding this child to ransom for burning down the house, but he is a child. This boy crying for his father too bad,” she said.
She hugged and pleaded with her sister, Peggy Alleyne, to not harbour any ill will towards the child and his family. Peggy, who was also out when the fire started, burst into tears as she came back to meet her wooden structure partially destroyed.
“People have to take responsibility for their children. You don’t leave babies to see about babies. I just got a grandchild, what if my child was in the house,” Peggy cried.
Natalie hugged her and told her to give praise that no one had died.
Meanwhile, acting Divisional Fire Officer Boodoo of the Southern Division said six people were also rendered homeless in a fire which started in a commercial/residential building at Moruga.
Boodoo also called on citizens to exercise caution around this Christmas season.
“This is the Christmas season when we engage in a lot of electrical systems being used in the form of lighting and we have the potential of overloading circuits.
“My desire is to encourage you avoid overloading of circuits, using open flames, leaving lighted candles which could be very detrimental.”
Boodoo cautioned parents to be very vigilant when it comes to their children and their very valuable properties.