Observer Media – The usual hustle and bustle of St John’s City was interrupted by billowing smoke as flames consumed a building on lower Newgate Street yesterday afternoon.

Nearby business owners told Observer that the fire began just a few minutes before midday in the Newgate House Building which houses Costume Island and another business.

Observer spoke to a customer who witnessed the onset of the blaze. She said that the owner of the store attempted to put out the fire but was unsuccessful.

She said the owner poured a liquid into a corner by the cash register.

“And it flamed up and she said ‘it’s not supposed to flame up like that”. She was [hitting the fire with her hand] and I said ‘no, no, get a wet rag’ and it was out but then the cash register was smoking,” she recalled.

The customer said that she brought attention to the smoke emanating from the cash register, but the fire then caught nearby flammable liquids which escalated the situation.

“I tell her ‘fire is in the cash register’, she said ‘no, it’s just smoking’ and I said ‘no, where there is smoke, there’s fire’. I tell her to plug out the cash register because it was an electrical one and turn it over. So, when she plug it out and turn it I just see the fire run on the side,” she said.

It was then that the customer ran out of the store and alerted others in the vicinity as well as the fire police about what was happening.

“I run outside and say ‘fire, fire, fire’! The girls in the salon thought I was joking but they came out. I called 911 one time … I told them fire on Newgate Street but I didn’t remember the name of the building because I was nervous myself so I start to explain, below Shoul’s, below the police station where they sell all the perfume and oil,” she said.

The customer agreed with other witnesses on the scene, saying that she believed the ongoing water shortage across Antigua and Barbuda contributed to the fire getting out of control. While firefighters responded quickly, they struggled to put out the fire.

“They got here and in five minutes all the water done. No water in the fire hydrant nor the one down there so they had to go to Heritage Quay. By the time they stand there, the smoke started getting out and the fire started getting out of control,” she added.

Fire Chief Elvis Weaver confirmed that the closest hydrants had no water to refill the truck.

Meanwhile, a close friend of the owner reported that she was taken to hospital with mild burns to her arm. Other reports suggested that the store which sells oils and perfumes did not have a fire extinguisher.

Photos courtesy Observer Media