'We lost everything' - Family of four homeless after fire

January 10, 2017
A look at the damage caused by Monday's fire at Cornwall Barracks.
Dorette Harris (right) speaks to a friend about her losses.
Three empty bottles remain standing in the bar that was once owned by Patrick and Dorette Harris.

Decades of hard work went up in smoke in a fire that took less than 30 minutes to engulf properties, cash, and other personal belongings of Patrick and Dorette Harris, who, along with their two grandchildren, are now homeless.

The early-morning fire, which destroyed a four-bedroom board house, a grocery shop, bar, garage, motor car, minibus, and a substantial amount of cash, has dealt a crippling blow, not only to the owners of the various properties, but also community members, whose line of credit has been burnt and buried in the twinkling of an eye.

Patrick Harris recounted that a wake was taking place near to his grocery shop and bar at Cornwall Barracks in the Rio Grande Valley of Portland Sunday night when there was a power outage.

"I offered them electricity, as I had a standby generator," Harris said.

"However, shortly after, fire was spotted coming from a building near the garage. With the help of dozens of residents, we started to fight the blaze, which was spreading rapidly to other parts of the building and other adjoining properties. Before long, the bar, grocery shop, and house were engulfed, and we simply had to retreat, as the heat was too intense for us to continue fighting the blaze," he added.

Harris, who was obviously affected by the loss, told THE STAR yesterday that he was somewhat more concerned about other residents who will not be able to secure food items on credit anymore.

"On a day like today (Monday), parents would send their child to the shop to credit a pound of flour, $20 baking powder, cooking oil, and a piece of salt mackerel to provide them with a warm meal before sending them out to school. I feel their pain, as this grocery shop was a provider to dozens of residents, who are unable to pay cash upfront," Harris said.

Two children, six and nine, were rescued by Dorette Harris, who also had to make a hasty retreat from inside the house.

"We have lost everything," she said.

"The children will not be able to attend school, as their uniform, books, bags, and other belongings were destroyed. My husband and I are left with only the clothes on our backs. But I am thankful to God that no life was lost. Picking up the pieces is not going to be easy, as even our business money was burnt to ash," she added.

Assistant Superintendent of the Port Antonio Fire Brigade, Everol Brown, said they received a call at 1:05 a.m. and one unit responded. Brown added that a team of investigators will be revisiting the scene to conduct further investigations to determine the cause of the fire.

Loss is estimated at $6 million.

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