V.I. Fire Service has launched an investigation into a fire late Monday afternoon that heavily damaged a home in Coral Bay. Fire Chief Winnie Powell said Tuesday an elderly woman who lived in the house was able to get out.
Powell said she was not injured, but the neighbors took her to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center as a precaution.
About 60 to 75 percent of the house was destroyed, Powell said.
“The living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bath,” she said.
The fire started on the top floor of the concrete house. Firefighters remained on the scene throughout the night. Powell said that they stayed to secure the scene until the fire investigators could arrive. She did not know how long the investigation would take them because it depended on how much rubble they had to inspect.
Powell said the house is owned by the Dalmida family.
Five fire trucks from both Coral Bay and Cruz Bay stations—as well as the Emergency Medical Service, St. John Rescue and the Police Department—responded to the fire.
Ajax Peak resident Bob Klenke called the Coral Bay fire station to report the fire because he knows that there are delays when calling the 911 number. He said he initially saw smoke.
“But as soon as I saw flames coming out of the upstairs window, I knew we had a serious problem,” Klenke said.
Someone also called the 911 emergency number because Powell said there was some confusion as to whether the fire was in Upper Carolina or Lower Carolina, which are on opposite sides of the Carolina valley. And Powell said the operator then directed the fire trucks to nearby Bordeaux.
She said that communication among the fire trucks eventually solved the problem.
Sharon McKee is a neighbor of the house that caught fire. She said she called 911, but it connected her to St. Croix. The 911 operator then had to connect to St. Thomas and then on to St. John. By this time, McKee said she heard the fire engine siren and hung up the phone because she knew help was on the way.
David Frick, a Missouri resident staying at a villa on Ajax Peak, spotted the fire but said he had no way to determine the fire’s location because he was unfamiliar with the area. He called the villa’s maintenance man, who lives nearby, to ask what to do.
Powell also recounted a similar experience had by a tourist in the Cruz Bay area who wanted to report a fire but could only say that it was “up the hill from the barge.” Several hills surround the barge dock, so it was difficult for the Fire Service to determine the exact hill.
McKee also pointed out that the area has narrow roads that are hard for fire trucks to navigate, so she said people living in the area should expect delays. She suggested that people keep fire extinguishers on hand to help control small blazes.
Contacting 911 and directing emergency vehicles to where they need to go is an issue in Coral Bay. Powell said that although a utility pole numbering system is in place in some but not all parts of Coral Bay, in some instances poles at various locations across the island have the same number.
Additionally, cell phone calls to 911 made from the Coral Bay area often connect to Tortola’s 911 system. V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency spokesman Christine Lett said 776-9110 is the correct number to use when calling from a cell phone in the Coral Bay area.