3 hurt, 1 dead in Couva house fire

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

HOUSE OF DEATH: The house in Exchange Village, Couva where Stephon Foster died in a fire on April 3. – Photo by Rishard Khan

Despite the efforts of neighbours and rapid response by fire officers, a 25-year-old Couva man died in a fire at his home, in what his neighbours claim was a blaze that was deliberately set on the morning of April 3. Three other members of the family remain hospitalised.

Stephen Foster died in the fire at 2.45 am at his HDC (Housing Development Corporation) duplex home at Anand Yankaran Drive Extension, Exchange Village, which he shared with his mother Lorna, 54, and her brother, Lester, 52. Also in the house at the time was family friend Leela Ramjitsingh, 17.

Neighbour Rocky Daniel, 57, recalled the ordeal, saying he was in bed when he heard an explosion. Realising the neighbour’s home was on fire, Daniel said he ran out of his house, took his garden hose and joined with other residents to try and douse the flames.

“While all this was taking place, we were hearing Stephon bawling out begging us…allyuh hurry up, hurry up, is what he said.”

Daniel added that a short time later, Foster’s shouts for help ended.

He said fire officers arrived within ten minutes of being alerted and took about that same time to extinguish the fire.

Fire Service public relations officer Dexter Hodge later told Newsday that teams were able to contain the fire to the ground floor of the unit and prevented it from spreading to an adjoining apartment. He said Foster’s burnt body was found near the front door.

“We suspect (he) was attempting to out the fire on his own and it seemed he would have become exhausted and became overwhelmed by the heat and smoke,” Hodge said.

He said an autopsy will be done to determine the exact cause of death. The other members of family and Ramjitsingh were on the second floor during the fire.

Another resident, Stephenson Ramlochan said the death of his neighbour had left him shaken while Daniel agreed saying he didn’t know if he could sleep on Wednesday night.

Ramlochan described the community as tight-knit with neighbours often gathering at the Fosters’ home on evenings to lime and play cards sometime late into the next morning.

Both men said they did not believe the fire was accidental, pointing to an incident in December where assailants attached the Fosters and smashed most of the windows of the house. The family’s car was also attacked and its windows smashed.

Hodge said while the Fire Service is still conducting investigations, a preliminary assessment showed that the fire was not accidental.

“A preliminary investigation revealed the fire was incendiary in nature, meaning it was non-accidental.”

He said firemen noted trails of fire leading from the apartment into nearby bushes which could have been from a flammable liquid used to set the building on fire. However, he said both the TTPS and Fire Service will still have to conduct independent investigations.

Central Division police sources said investigations are being down into an arson attack and also a homicide.

Sources added that Foster’s uncle Lester remains warded in critical condition to burns to about 90 per cent of his body, while his sister Lorna and the teenager were also warded. All three are at San Fernando General Hospital.

The HDC, in a release, said it would refer the family to the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services for counselling and other forms of support.

The release added that the extent of damage to the building, including water damage to adjacent units, will be evaluated. The HDC’s Facilities Estate Management Company Limited will oversee whatever repairs are needed to the unit once investigations are concluded.