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Seven rescued by fire crews

A group of family and friends told last night how they felt lucky to be alive after being rescued from their burning homes by firefighters.

The seven people, including a two-year-old baby girl, were preparing to jump from the balcony of their smoke-filled apartments, above the Clay House Inn, when fire crews arrived to carry them to safety in the early hours yesterday.

Brothers Anthony and Albin Gomes said they were awakened in their beds soon after 4 a.m. by thick smoke billowing into their first floor apartment from the central corridor outside.

They said they could hear shouting and screaming from neighbours in the adjoining three apartments as they each tried to flee the blaze and the smoke.

Anthony Gomes, a chef at the Lobster Pot restaurant, said: “The room was filled with smoke. We just got up and tried to get out.

“In the different apartments, we heard families shouting, trying to find out where the smoke was coming from. We were all choking.

“We knew the smoke was coming in from the other side of the door, so we had nowhere to go. We had to go to the balcony.

“If somebody had not come to get us, we knew we would have had to jump down, but the fire brigade came very quickly and we managed to escape. We were scared, but we did not come to any harm. We all feel very lucky to be alive. We will never forget this New Year.”

Ranjit Gomes, a chef at Aerial Sands Hotel, who is no relation to the other men but lives in one of the adjoining apartments on the North Shore, Devonshire, site, was with his wife Ghina and young two-year-old daughter Anjie Maria when their home started to fill up with smoke.

He said: “We were all choking on the smoke, including our baby daughter, but we managed to get outside until the fire brigade came. We were all shaken, but nobody was hurt. We are very lucky.”

And Albin Gomes, who has lived above the Clay House Inn for two years, said each of them were now staying with friends until they were able to move back into their homes again.

But when that would be, they did not know. However, he said they lost no belongings in the blaze, and apart from smoke effects, said the damage was minimal.

He said they were all initially taken to the Salvation Army residential hostel early yesterday morning, but have since managed to find temporary accommodation.

Yesterday afternoon, they all returned to their smoke-damaged apartments to collect clothes and belongings, and said they still had no idea how the fire had started. Anthony Gomes said: “We don't know what happened. We think it was an accident. We have never had any problems here...we don't think it was (deliberate).”

And each of the rescued residents praised the quick efforts of the firefighters in taking them to safety.

Firefighter John Pacheco, a divisional officer at Hamilton Fire Station, said when he and his crew arrived on the scene soon after 4.15 a.m., the seven people were stood on the balconies.

Two ladders were immediately put up and the worried residents were led to safety.

He said the fire was not severe and was easy to bring under control, however, and the damage caused largely by smoke, was estimated to be at about $15,000.

The senior firefighter said: “When we arrived, they were not panicking, but they were obviously concerned.

“We got everybody down off the balcony safely, and after the fire was put out, there was some concern that one individual was unaccounted for. We did a search of the property to make sure everyone was out, but then it came to be that the man was not there after all. He had not been at the apartments.

“Luckily, the families were not near the flames when they were on the balconies - they had an apartment between them and the blaze out in the corridor, but there was a tremendous amount of smoke. They were lucky in the sense that they had a balcony to go to and did not have to cross the fire to get out.”

He said the fire was being investigated by both the Police and the Fire Safety Division and said until their inquiry was complete, it would be impossible to say how the fire had started.

He added: “We are looking at everything. I am sure the investigating team will look at the case and if there are any points to be brought up, they will bring them up.”

Yesterday, the Clay House Inn was in darkness and a sign on the door said the nightclub would remain closed until further notice.

The club itself was not caught in the fire, but it is thought that it suffered some smoke damage. However, water used by the fire crews seeped into the club downstairs, possibly damaging some of the electrical wiring.

Clay House Inn manager Choy Aming could not be reached for comment last night.