60 firefighters control massive HWP blaze as plumes of smoke seen at Flatts
About 60 firefighters took about three hours to bring a massive blaze at HWP under control and nearby residents continue to be told to stay away from the scene.
Those living nearby are still being told to close their windows and stay inside after flames as high as 35ft were seen coming from the car company on St John's Road, Pembroke. The huge plume of thick black smoke could be seen as far as Flatt's Village.
Chief fire officer Vincent Hollinsid told a press conference this evening that firefighters had done a “fantasic job” of containing the fire and stopping it from spreading to neighbouring properties.
He said as soon as firefighters arrived on the scene they realised it would be too dangerous to enter the building because of the way it was constructed. He said the “walls and roof collapsed very quickl y” so they tackled the blaze by creating a line of firefighters from Mills Creek Boatyard to St John's Road.
About 20 fire vehicles from across the Island rushed to the scene with firefighters also using a hydraulic lift to spray down gallons of water. Loud explosions were heard and fire hydrants on BELCO premises were used as an extra water supply.
Firefighters will remain on the scene all night dampening down the fire and will tackle “little pockets if they flare up” after darkness. Residents are being told to stay behind the police cordons for their own safety.
The fire is believed to have started in the paint and body shop at about 2pm and quickly engulfed the car salesroom. There are estimated to be at least 30 cars in the building, both new cars and those being repaired. All of HWP's 115 staff got out when the fire alarm was injred. A female firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion at the scene by paramedics, but did not require hospital treatment.
The damage has been described as “catastrophic” and concerns continue that toxic fumes could affect the water supplies of neighbouring homes. The old warehouse is said to have asbestos in its roof.
Vehicles parked near the building have also suffered fire damage, and it is said to have been lucky that the flames did not spread to nearby Western Stars Football Club.
Fire officials are yet to comments on the extent of the blaze but it is understood to have started in the southern side of the building.
The Salvation Army was on the scene giving out food, water and facemasks to the emergency services.
Police immediately cordoned off a section of St. John's Road and ordered all staff and customers to be evacuated from Gorham's at about 3:15pm.
Onlookers rushed to scene from nearby homes and businesses even though police officers in face masks could be seen telling them about the asbestos danger.
Workers from companies along Serpentine Road scrambled up their fire exits and onto their roofs to get a better view.
Michael DeFontes, the controller at TreeCon, said: “It's a huge blaze, everything has just gone up in smoke. We've seen the roof slowly peeling back and there's been quite a few explosions.
“Can you imagine the amount of money this is going to cost? Everything has gone”.
HWP staff reported running out of the building as quickly as they could. They were advised to go home but several people wearing HWP T-shirts could be seen milling around the police cordons. Up to about 50 people gathered at Cox's Hill.
A police spokesman said: “Members of the Bermuda Fire Service are working feverishly to get the fire under control with the help of nine fire appliances and 60 fire officers.
“In the abundance of caution, the Bermuda Police Service is asking all individuals within a one mile radius of the St. John's Road area to please stay inside as it is not clear at this time whether the smoke in the air is toxic or not.
“All businesses in the surrounding areas have been evacuated and HWP can confirm that every member of their staff is accounted for.
“Residents living in the Cox's Hill, St. John's Road and Blackwatch Pass areas are asked to please stay away from the HWP area until the fire has been contained.”
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