The scene of desolation at the HWP showroom yesterday morning, post-blaze. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
The scene of desolation at the HWP showroom yesterday morning, post-blaze. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10:  “All we could see was thick black smoke and flames shooting all around us.”

That is what firefighters Craig Whited and Ramsay Saggar were up against as they battled an inferno at HWP.

The pair were among the first to arrive at the scene just after 2pm on Monday as fire tore through the car showroom.

Mr Whited told the Bermuda Sun it was the worst structural fire he had faced in 22 years.

He said: “There was smoke all around us once we got inside. You could barely see anything and the heat was excruciating.

“We used the hose to try and hit the flames but it didn’t really scratch the surface. The flames just kept coming back.

“There were bits of roof and metal falling down all around us. We were lucky we did not get hit. The building was collapsing in on itself and there were so many different hazards in the building.

“We spent about 20 minutes tackling the blaze but in the meantime it had spread around us and flames were shooting out of the roof.

“When we got low on our air supply we followed the hose back out.

“We were exhausted. It was tiring work and so hot in there”

Lieutenant Alec Swan was in charge of the first crew to arrive at the scene on the Bakery Lane side.

He added: ”When we got there the fire was through the roof but we still thought we could put it out.

“I could see when Craig and Ramsay came out just how hot it was in there and how tired they were.

“I had already called for more men and all the equipment we had.

“The flames were coming out of the roof and it’s always a bad sign when you can see the sky through the building.

“I made the decision to take a more defensive approach and try and contain the blaze and protect the other nearby buildings.”

Lieutenant Swan and his team were in Hamilton Fire Station when the alarm bell rang at 1:59pm on Monday.

They were the first firefighters on the scene.

He added: “At first we did not know how bad it was.

“It was only when we got near to the blaze that we realized how bad it was. All we could see was thick black smoke as we approached. Then we realized it was going to be a hot one.

“Initially as the other guys went into the building in breathing apparatus to hit the fire I looked in the front part of the building.

“I looked at the possibility of driving the cars out of the showroom but we did not have the manpower or the time.

Joined forces

“The fire took hold very quickly and it just got worse and worse.

“It took three and a half hours for us to get control of the blaze and thousands of gallons of water.”

Around 60 firefighters including reserves from the east end joined forces to tackle the massive fire.

Twelve new recruits, who had only just gone through their passing out ceremony last week, were also on the front line of the fight to control the blaze.

The firefighter’s efforts ensured that none of the neighbouring properties were damaged and no one was hurt.

They spent nearly five hours using high-pressure hoses and the engine with an extendable ladder to douse the flames from above.

Many were still on the scene after 8:30pm.

Lieutenant Swan added: “The hazards in this building made this a very dangerous fire.

“There were compressor air hoses dangling around and they were fueling the fire so every time you put part of the fire out it came back harder.

“The ladder appliance was the saviour for us. We were able to hit the flames from above and stop it spreading.

“It was certainly not a run of the mill call but everyone came together and did what had to be done. You have to do different jobs when you’re in the fire service and everyone just got on with it.

“The most frightening part was when we first got there and realized there was just four of us dealing with such a huge fire.

“But we called for back up and got everyone there as soon as we could.”

Mr Whited added: “I think not being able to see and not knowing what to expect because of all the hazards like gasoline and acetylene made this the worst fire I have dealt with in 22 years.

“To have the new recruits on hand to help to help us was vital.”