Soufriere Fire Tragedy – from the flames a new creation

Soufriere Fire Tragedy – from the flames a new creation

The ferocious blaze that consumed the historic centre of Soufriere in October, leaving behind a trail of embers and tears, impacted on the design team of Boka Group, who had just completed a month photographing the historic buildings of the Island as part of their concept design workshop in preparation of the new 5* resort facility to be built at nearby Belvedere Plantation.
Company architect, Iva Petkovic said “Not only did Soufriere inspire us, but the buildings of Church Street drew our attention. Our photographs of those buildings now reduced to ash are a heavy inspiration to us and have been extensively recorded in our archives. By a sad irony, one of the buildings destroyed in Church Street was a family home of our own Managing Director (Saint Lucia), Mr George Alcindor. This strong link gives us a determination to reincarnate the vernacular and designs of those buildings within the new ones that will rise at Belvedere Plantation. We believe they will be symbolic of Saint Lucia’s core character and strength of spirit – always facing adversity as an obstacle and not an end”.Boka Group Managing Director George Alcindor said “The family home in Church Street, where my grandparents lived, was the place of many of my childhood memories and it was consumed by the flames on the night of Thursday 22nd October. In the grotesque heat, one hundred years was reduced to ash in one hundred minutes – but the spirit and architecture of those buildings all of us are so familiar with as Saint Lucians has become the inspiration for new buildings that will soon rise at Belvedere Plantation. This is a tribute to Saint Lucia’s unique style and is symbolic of what we have been trying to create at Belvedere Plantation, something new, but not alien – visitors to the Island will be able to live the spirit of Saint Lucia. It is true to say that the sad demise of something special has directly led to inspiration in our design process”.

Soufriere no stranger to fire

The Soufriere Fire. June 9th, 1955

On the evening of Corpus Christi, on another Thursday in 1955, 70 years ago at about seven-thirty in the evening, someone had left a pot unattended in a two-storey wooden house between the Soufriere Hospital and the Presbytery. The house burst into flames and with it one closely situated neighbour after another began to be consumed. The wooden structures fed a fire that raged uncontrollably throughout the town.

In spite of the heroic efforts of the collective fire crews, almost half of the town was completely destroyed. The fire destroyed 387 houses and left over 2400 residents homeless. Fortunately, only one person died as a result of the fire…Mrs. Madalene Mercier who died from shock.

The morning after the fire, Friday, June 10th, government officials, the Red Cross and other volunteers arrived in Soufriere to help the fire stricken community. Within days of the calamity, there was construction of temporary housing, the restoration of public facilities and a mass inoculation to prevent a typhoid epidemic.

Less than a week later, the tragedy was raised on the floor of the House of Commons in London:

House of Commons Debate 15 June 1955 vol 542 cc11-2W 11W

52. Sir R. Robinson asked the Secretary of State what damage was done and how many people were rendered homeless by the recent fire at Soufriere in St. Lucia; and what steps have been taken to provide immediate relief in this area.

Mr. Hopkinson Three hundred and eighty-seven buildings, or about three-fifths of the town, were destroyed. It is estimated that some 2,400 people were made homeless. The St. Lucia Government, with valuable help from the local Red Cross and other voluntary workers, are doing everything they can to relieve distress . Food and temporary shelter have been arranged and precautions taken to safeguard health. Public utility services have been restored.

The Governments, the local Red Cross Societies and the public of neighbouring territories, and the British Red Cross, have responded to the Acting Governor’s appeal with prompt and generous offers of help. Some relief supplies have already arrived by air. I feel sure that the whole House will wish my right hon. Friend to convey their sympathy with the victims of this disaster.

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