Residents thwart arson attempt on Charlestown Secondary

Stabroek News
January 14, 2003

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Alert Charlestown residents averted what might have been a colossal disaster when they foiled an arson attempt on the Charlestown Government Secondary School on Sunday night.

Residents quickly doused the fire which started in a classroom in the north-western wing of the school, reportedly lit by a person or persons unknown.

Security guard Derrick Gonsalves, who was near the premises at the time the alarm was raised at about 11.30 pm, said neighbours ran to the fire with buckets and put out the flames. Gonsalves, who said he was not on duty at the time of the accident, said the school's security guard was later found to be asleep.

The neighbour who discovered the fire wished to remain anonymous but said the flames, which he first thought to be the lights of a passing car, had caught his attention and then he saw the fire in the classroom. He immediately called out to his neighbour who ran over with a bucket of water and tried to control the flames.

A fire tender and police officers were later called. Stabroek News understands that a rag soaked in kerosene was recovered from the scene. When Stabroek News visited, sections of the floor of the classroom were still soaked in the flammable liquid. Gonsalves suggested that had it not been for the vigilance of the residents, the whole block could have gone up in flames, since many of the structures on the street are made of wood.

Speaking with Stabroek News, Principal of the school, Esther McGarrel said she was not informed of the incident until she turned up yesterday morning. The guard on duty had not reported the incident to her. She said she was now preparing a report for the Education Ministry and was also attempting to contact the guard service.

Students are not currently occupying that wing of the school, which is to be torn down as part of rehabilitation works. The wing, which McGarrel said was over 100 years old, currently houses a large portion of the school's furniture.

McGarrel was puzzled as to why someone would want to torch a dilapidated building, which was not even in use.

There had been a previous attempt to burn that wing of the school during the 2001 elections, when persons passing in a minibus had thrown a channa bomb. That fire was also quickly put out. Forms 1-4 students of the school are currently being housed at Dolphin Secondary School, while Fifth Form students attend classes at the institution from 1-5 pm daily.

The incident came in the wake of arson attacks last week on three gas stations and one on the Kaieteur News printery prior to that. (Andre Haynes)

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