Anniversary of tragic Maraval fire: Hero guard recounts horror

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this July 2021 file photo, firemen work to extinguish a fire at a family’s home at No 1 Rookery Nook, Maraval. The blaze claimed the lives of three children aged 17, six and three. Photo by Sureash Cholai

On July 27, 2021 the nation was horrified when live videos surfaced online showing the agony after three children died in a house fire in Maraval after they were trapped inside by fortified doors and burglarproofing.

On July 26, Ezekiel, 17, Faith, six, and Kayden Burke, three, died after they were smothered by thick billowing smoke in their Rookery Nook, Maraval home. Their sisters Zaria, 13, and Jeniceia Burke, 15, were rescued in the nick of time.

An investigation into the fire was completed in September. Chief fire officer Arnold Bristo told Newsday on Friday a electrical circuit overload started the fire.

First responder Evans Hinds, a security officer at the nearby RBC Maraval branch, leaped into action after being alerted by screams for help.

Ezekiel Burke

In an interview with Sunday Newsday, he recalled the events leading up to the attempted rescue and how the events of that day haunt him to this day.

That morning started as a regular day for Hinds.

He arrived to work around 7.20 am to cover another double shift at the RBC carpark, a stone’s throw away from the house.

In the middle of his morning devotion, he said his usual prayer asking God for strength, wisdom, knowledge, guidance and the ability to deal with any obstacles that would come his way.

“I got no bad vibes or feelings that something was going to take place,” he said as he gazed at the remains of the now-demolished building. Soon after he started working he heard a loud scream coming from the house.

“When I look down in the direction of the house I saw Ezekiel in the gallery screaming for help, and there was a lot of fire and smoke.

“I ran to him and into the blazing flame. I moved as fast as I could.”

Their parents, Troy Burke and Jenille Rodriguez, were not at home when the fire started.

Faith Burke

Hinds was able to extinguish a power line that ran from a light pole to the bank before the fire could spread to that building.

“I ran back over to assist Ezekiel, who was partially burnt, in the gallery. Unfortunately, the pressure of the water was low around here at that time, but I did my best. I ran over to the bank, unhooked up the hose and started to wet him.”

Hinds said he has never seen fear in the eyes of a person the way the teen looked at him as he begged him for help. “He kept saying, ‘Security, I don’t want to die.’ I was looking in his eyes right through. I told him to stay in the corner, I will keep wetting him and I will try my best. I tried to hold him to pull him through. “

But his efforts were not enough  against the fiercely burning fire.“His head caught on fire, his clothes and then his skin. He burnt to death right in front of me. I knew that was it.”

He said a doubles vendor and bypassers joined in to help and minutes later fire officials arrived.

“We heard the two younger children screaming inside, but then they went silent. We knew that was it. The smoke was so thick that we couldn’t see anything. In all the commotion we couldn’t stop to grieve, because it seems we kept losing them one after the other, even though we trying hard.”

His attention was  piqued right after when they heard more screaming coming from the back of the house. They were able to break down the back door and save the two remaining siblings.

Looking back now, if he had the chance he would have tied a rope to the burglarproofed gate to the back of a vehicle and pulled the gate out. He believes the children would have survived that way.

“We tried to pry open the gate with a piece of iron. It was working, but because the fire was so hot, we couldn’t continue. But the force of the car would have pulled it right out.”

Hinds was treated at the hospital for burns on his upper body, hands and face. Today, a scar stretching from him his left  ribs down to his thigh and horizontal scars on his palms reminds him of the good friends he lost.

“I lost family because I would always throw an eye on them when they are home and their parents head out to work. I lost loved ones in a blink of an eye. I had a unique relationship with them. As the time comes closer to the anniversary it’s hard for me…I will never forget them.”

Kayden Burke

Four months after the house had been demolished, Hinds still imagines little Kayden climbing the burglarproofing calling out to him, Ezekiel on the computer doing homework and the others playing together on the inside.

“I have seen death many times in my life. I’ve been stabbed eight times by a woman I was trying to help. Then I was shot after multiple times by unknown gunmen another time.”

Through his slightly slurred speech, caused by a stab wound scar on the left cheek, Hinds said, “I can’t even smile because of the knife-wound damage to my face. Life was not kind to me and I accept that but I thank God still.”