Flames are seen bursting from the HWP showroom and body shop. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Flames are seen bursting from the HWP showroom and body shop. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

MONDAY, AUGUST 8: Eyewitnesses have described the distressing scenes around HWP today as fire engulfed a car showroom and body shop.

Police officers moved the barrier around the scene four times as black smoke – possibly laden with asbestos — grew thicker.

One officer on perimeter duty told a crowd held back by police tape: “We had to move people because of the asbestos in the smoke.”

Eywitness Sheikira Swan, 20, a hairdresser in Hamilton, was on her way to her nearby home as the fire took hold.

She said: “I passed by just before 2pm – there was a lot of black smoke, so it had to have been going on for a while.

“I could have got home another way, but I’m probably safer here because of all the smoke – it’ll be blowing right over my house.”

Another bystander, a man who asked not to be named, said: “It’s just as well the wind was blowing the way it was – it blew the smoke and flames away from the gas station across the road.

“If it hadn’t, we could have had a disaster on our hands. As it is, it’s a miracle no one was killed or injured.”

Arthur West, 43, whose house overlooks the HWP site, said: “It’s an old building – it doesn’t surprise me it went up so quickly. It’s certainly not changed much since I was a child.”

HWP staff at the scene were seen to be wearing protective masks as they helped firefighters.

Firefighters were still damping down the ruins of the building at 6pm tonight and were expected to be at the scene for several hours more.

Earlier, the flames spread from the warehouse-like structure to the front building – engulfing at least six brand new cars in the showroom.

Cars parked at the side of the building also burst into flames and bushes and trash cans at the nearby Western Stars Football Club had to be doused by firefighters after they also caught fire.

Power was shut down to several buildings in the area and Gorham’s homewares store, further down St John’s Road, was also closed as smoke engulfed the area.

Source

The Bermuda Sun understands the fire started in the body shop at the rear of the building. The source was said to be one of the spray booths used for painting vehicles.

It is not known exactly how the blaze started, but a police radio message overheard by a Bermuda Sun reporter said that the area was being “treated as a crime scene” and all police at the scene were to remain on duty.

It is understood not many staff were on site at the time the fire started, during the lunch hour, and all are said to have got out safely.

Police are recommending that anyone living within a one-mile radius of the blaze to 'stay inside' amid concerns that the smoke could be toxic.

Evacuation

On East Park Lane overlooking the blaze, crowds of onlookers had gathered to assess the damage.

Some residents had decided to evacuate.

Omar Govia was heading on foot to his mother’s house carrying his baby daughter Seniyah and a small bag of belongings.

He said: "I'd been seeing BB messages all day so I called my girl to make sure the baby was safe. I'm taking her to my mother's house until everything calms down and they know what's what.

"They said everywhere within a mile radius would be effected so I'm just being safe."

On St John's Road police, wearing gas masks, were diverting traffic from the roundabout next to Arnold's Supermarket.

A separate police barrier had been set up next to Berkeley Hill preventing people from going any closer, even on foot.

A workman who had been on a job at a house close to the fire could be seen leaving the affected area, his face covered with a towel. He said smoke from the blaze had made it impossible to continue working.

Motorists in the area covered their faces with hands or towels to avoid inhaling the smoke.

HWP Staff

Motorcycle racer Jevaughn Simons, who works in HWP's cycle showroom, said he had assumed it was a fire drill when the alarm went off.

He said: "I was heading for the door and I spun around to look back at my desk. I have a window that looks into the bodyshop and I could see the blaze coming from there.

"I thought 'well, this is for real'. I went into the car showroom to tell everyone get out, this is for real. Everyone got out safe, no-one was injured as far as I know.

"Right now I'm waiting to find out what is happening. I'm just waiting to see what the deal is, thats what I'm really worried about at this point in time."

It's understood that some workers initially tried to remove vehicles and equipment from the paint room but aborted the effort as the fire took hold.

Ringo's cafe, which is next to the showroom,  is also believed to have suffered some smoke damage in the blaze.

Gorham's

Rod Farrington, managing director of Gorhams near to HWP, said he was flying in from Atlanta when he saw the smoke from the air.

He said his business had suffered no major damage as of 5pm last night but had closed and evacuated the premises as a cautionary measure on the instructions of police officers at the scene.

"When I got to the scene staff had already shut the store down."

He said himself and fellow director Harry Durham had donned asbestos gas masks, which are sold at the store, and finished closing up the premises.

"We didn't want to take any chances, asbestos is deadly. We had to spend 15-20 minutes just shutting systems down and making sure everything was alright."

Additional reporting by James Whittaker.

Report from 6pm press conference to follow soon...