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.