Fire at old San Fernando magistrates’ court

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Fire officers inspect the old San Fernando Magistrates’ Court building on the corner of Harris and Knox streets after it caught on fire on Thursday. – Photo by Laurel V Williams

A fire broke out at the old San Fernando Magistrates’ Court on the corner of Harris and Knox Streets on Thursday, and the quick response from fire officers prevented the flames from spreading to nearby buildings.

But as a precautionary measure, workers next door from the National Insurance Board as well as people across the street at the Supreme Court, evacuated the buildings as the fire officers put out the flames.

On Thursday, assistant chief fire officer Mukharji Rampersad of the Southern Division Headquarters at Mon Repos told Newsday that the station received a report at around 11.30 am.

The fire originated on the second floor of the abandoned structure, which is about 25 x 40 metres. The building does not have electricity.

“We contained and extinguished the fire without difficulties. The water pressure was low, but we extinguished the fire with the available resources. We were supported with truck-borne water from the WASA and the San Fernando City Corporation. We are trying to find all possible seats of fire,” Rampersad said.

In 2020, the century-old, dilapidated building was marked for demolition. Last year, demolition work started but stopped, causing the century-old courthouse to deteriorate even further.

Many consider the remaining structure an eye-sore in the southern city.

Rampersad said it was “too early” to say what caused the fire.

Fire officers cordone off the corner of Harris and Knox streets in San Fernando after the old magistrates’ court building caught fire on Thursday. The building is not currently in use. – Photo by Laurel V Williams

Street dwellers often use the building to sleep and rest, and he speculated the possibility of someone carelessly discarding a cigarette could have caused it.

Rampersad urged people to take preventive measures to secure their premises, including dilapidated or unoccupied buildings.

Rampersad said, “If they have to be demolished, demolish them in a timely manner as these can contribute to further risks in the city.”

With climate change globally, he added: “We appeal, given this extensive dry period in the country, that people pay particular attention, similar to that of the dry season. People must adhere to all those guidelines like creating fire breaks, cleaning at least five feet around the house, and properly discarding unwanted materials.”

He also urged people to invest in smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

There were many onlookers, including San Fernando mayor Robert Parris, as fire officers put out the fire.

Parris said he did not know what or if someone caused the fire. He recalled that in his inaugural speech recently, he alluded to the condition of the Harris Promenade, including street dwellers.

He said he had been discussing the issue with various stakeholders, including representatives from nearby schools.

Last year, a statement from the Judiciary said the first phase of demolition was completed just before the start of the covid19 pandemic in a partnership between the Judiciary and the Works and Transport Ministry.

The statement added that because early pandemic restrictions prevented work from continuing, the Judiciary sought alternative means of executing the demolition project.

Later in the year and as part of the Local Government Ministry’s We Clean TT campaign, demolition of the remaining structure of the building began, but remained incomplete.

A new magistrates’ court is to be built at the corner of Sutton Street and Irving Park.