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Castries 1948 fire’s anniversary observed

By SNO Staff
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front row-seated: National Archivist Margot Thomas (left) and Mayor of Castries Peterson Francis (second from left).

As the country this week observed the 69th anniversary of the 1948 Castries fire which destroyed 75 percent of the town and left thousands homeless, Saint Lucians are being asked to ensure that they absorb the lessons which came from the disaster.

A special ceremony was held on Tuesday (June 20) to commemorate the anniversary.

National Archivist Margot Thomas said in a presentation that among the lessons to be remembered is the need to resist procrastination during disasters.

“…From what I read [about the fire], people procrastinated, and many St. Lucians, we have that particular …trait in character. When the fire was taking place people said, ‘oh, that’s just a little fire, nothing will happen’, and they were not proactive. So…I want you to realise that a fire never tells us when it’s going to break out so let us always be ready,” she said.

“When we see anything happening around the city let us not depend on somebody else to do something about it. Let us be true citizens for St. Lucia,” she urged.

The national archivist also noted that another lesson to be learnt is the need for proper equipment and training for the fire department.

She explained that at the time of the 1948 disaster, the town’s fire brigade was under the charge of the police, who were not trained specifically for this type of work. The town’s fire engine was derelict, and this, according to her, indicates the need for proper equipment.

“They had to depend on a fire engine that came all the way from Beanfield,” she said.

Thomas moreover, lauded the aid that St. Lucia received from neighbouring Caribbean islands following the disaster.

“What we take away from the fire [is] the response of the other islands. The other Caribbean islands they responded immediately…. St. Lucians themselves, they rallied. These are the things that we need to remember; when we are in a crisis, we come together as a people, and that’s what happened then,” she said.

According to Thomas, during the 1940’s buildings were constructed from asbestos-containing material which has been found to have serious health implications. She believes that a lesson learned is the importance of safety, as the following question is asked: “how can we beautify our city without doing things that are detrimental to our health?”

Meanwhile, Mayor of Castries Peterson Francis said that the disaster should also be seen as a stepping stone, to not only reconstruct, but to “mend, mold and create a society”.

He took the opportunity to assure that all efforts are high towards creating a cleaner, safer and “buzzing” city. He said that as moves are being made to develop Castries, “let us all reflect on the disasters of the past…to conceptualise, then after dig the foundation, mix the mortar, lay the bricks, and build a tower of strength”.

Castries has been the venue for a number of large fires in the past. There were major fires in 1796, 1813, and 1927 when 17 blocks of the capital burnt down. There was also considerable damage done to the town in 1951, 1959 and 1960 in fires.

Historian Gregor Williams also made a presentation on the historic 1948 fire at the ceremony.

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14 comments

  1. Those who know, are aware that an accelerant was used in this fire. The purpose was to destroy records.

    Some of us, or our parents know too, that there was a massive change of ownership of property afterwards. Some in the legal fraternity know why.

    Even in the best of times, assets moving from far away Beane Field, Vieux Fort, taking four hours or more, could never have prevented the spread of the damage. The ordinary horse and buggy mode of transportation used to take at least two days, with stay overs in the connecting villages.

    Therefore, procrastination may have been a significant factor. However, it does not provide all the answers. As with all historical events, the passage of time allows reviewers to see the truer meanings, and get a fuller picture of the antecedents and attendant circumstances, regarding what really happened back then.

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    • Thats a good conspiracy theory nothing more. Do you know that the British Government was in charge of St. Lucia at the time? There are numerous town plans all before the fires clearly demarcating property and ownership. There is also a paper trail to show all what happened after. So do some research and do not spread fake conspiracies.

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      • Yes. I have heard stories that some families have the pictures. But they do not seem to support the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 'evidence' being propagated up there. The families of only those who suffered losses were interested in the scattered evidence.
        Under colonial government, they did not have the power, nor the influence to change the status quo. The lawyering class, the ruling class, and the constabulary were all intertwined. The writer above seems to be aware of this.
        These kinds of specious arguments like who was in control of the island will probably work. After all, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since. Take for example, the state of the records emerging after 1948 regarding birth and baptismal certificates in Saint Lucia. This says a lot.

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        • I also think that you should stay away from these conspiracy theories. See you have now connected records to it without no particular evidence (fake news). This is the main reason a population cannot advance, because of unreliable, unproven allegations. Do your research and don't come and assume that you know what you talking about.

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          • Yes man. It is as if those people who did benefit will come out and show evidence that mischief was not done.

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      • Town plans are not deeds, wills and the like. Hey! Be careful not to work so hard trying to fool the rest of us. Many of us alive today, I guess would be happy to accept procrastination as a threatening fire hazard in the year 1948.

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    • Procrastination is as good a cover-up as any. This is much more convincing, given the building codes in existence in those days.

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  2. Wake up, Your Lordship. Castries burnin'.

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  3. Many of the lessons from the 1948 fire still remain unlearned. There are still too many house fires on the island. We can get past that by introducing a Safety curriculum at Primary school level. Water safety, fire safety, road safety etc. On any given day when I visit home, I witness too many unsafe acts. Needless to say, some of them can kill. I believe those unsafe actions are a result of not knowing. Safety save lives.

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  4. Look like the mayor asleep. He nuh hear the alarm.

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    • Garcon, leave de fella alone. He working hard so must sleep...anywhere. I wish somebody had bring him a pillow so he eh break his neck. Lol.

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  5. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

    – Ephesians 6: 12

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