Couple blames GPL for fire at Lamaha Gardens home
-neighbour cites power surge

Stabroek News
January 5, 2003

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A couple employed with the Caricom Secretariat is asking the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) to take responsibility for a December 8 fire that destroyed a large part of their Lamaha Gardens home.

Dr Maurice Odle, the Eco-nomic Adviser to the CARICOM Secretary General, and his wife, Valerie, CARI-COM's Deputy Programme Manager, External and Economic Trade Relations with the WTO, are currently being accommodated at the home of their daughter and son-in-law.

GPL Public Relations Officer Marjorie Chester told Stabroek News that the investigations were being conducted by various departments in the company. In addition, she said, the company was still awaiting the findings of the Guyana Fire Service. The fire originated in the ceiling of the master bedroom of the home on Garnett Street and caused millions of dollars worth of structural damage to the house, as well as losses in terms of personal possessions.

With the help of the valuators and architects, and receipts which were not damaged, they have worked to put a value on the lost items some of which they considered priceless.

The fire completely destroyed the master bedroom, another bedroom, the dining room, a sitting room and an adjacent study with electronic equipment including computers, printers and a fax machine. What was not damaged by the fire was damaged by water in the upper flat from the fire hoses.

Electricians who assessed the damage, Dr Odle said, suggested that all the electrical appliances including freezers and refrigerators and televisions were damaged either by the power surge, which reportedly affected the area at the time, or were damaged by the fire itself. Dr Odle said the ground floor was not burnt because of the tiles. The fire ignited in spite of surge protectors in the building. He recalled that two years ago there were power surges in the area and the family had some electrical appliances damaged, but because of the time consumed in seeking compensation, the Odles had dropped the matter.

Mrs Odle told Stabroek News that she was not at home when the fire started, and her husband was en route to Panama. Because of the fear of fire, she said, it was a ritual for family members to turn off the appropriate switches. She received a call from her daughter who told her that the place was alight. On returning, she found firemen were already on the scene dousing the building.

Mrs Odle lost all her clothing while Dr Odle was left with whatever he had packed in his suitcase. When he arrived at his hotel he learnt about the fire and returned to Guyana immediately. Their losses include memorabilia which they had collected in countries where they had lived and travelled. Also lost were data bases and manuscripts.

Neighbours of the couple told Stabroek News that prior to the start of the fire, wires were sparking in the area.

One resident, Conrad Hunte, an accountant, who lives in Dennis Street, told this newspaper that it was not the first time that the "wires were kissing and sparks were flying" in the area, but this time around it was the biggest. On the day of the fire, he and his wife were cooking when they noted the sparks. He told his wife to pull down the main switch. After some 10 to 15 minutes he told her to put it on again which she did, but then they heard some popping sounds so they turned it off once more. He said he was so angry that he did not bother to examine if anything was damaged.

However, he got a multi- tester and on plugging it in found that even though the main switch was off, the tester was reading 188 in the 110V sockets.

He then called GPL to report the sparking wires and the high voltage, but the man who answered told him that there was a crew in the area and promptly hung up the telephone.

Shortly after, he said there were shouts of "fire" in the area and he ran to see what help he could give. While on his way he shouted to people to turn off their electrical appliances as the voltage reading was very high.

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