Flames leapt more than 30 feet into the air from the roof of the HWP showroom when the fire was at its fiercest mid-afternoon on Monday.  *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Flames leapt more than 30 feet into the air from the roof of the HWP showroom when the fire was at its fiercest mid-afternoon on Monday. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10: Fire-ravaged car dealership HWP will open for business today as it attempts to rise from the ashes of one of the worst blazes in Bermuda’s recent history.

Flames ripped through the building on Monday, levelling the paint and body shop and administrative offices.

The structure was a burnt out shell yesterday as construction crews moved in to clear the debris. The charred remains of vehicles could be seen through the shattered windows of the showroom on St John’s Road in Pembroke.

HWP said 12 customer cars were destroyed in the fire, as well as ‘a number of vehicles’ in the showroom. It is understood that five bikes were also destroyed.

The firm has set up a hotline for customers who have been affected and a task force has been established in an effort to get the business up and running again.

The effort has been hampered by the fact that computer, e-mail, telephone systems and customer paperwork were lost in the fire.

But Jonathan Brewin, president and CEO of the HWP Group which employs 115 people, said parts of the business would be open today.

“We are making every effort to complete all mechanical work as soon as possible and HWP will be open for business from Wednesday morning, albeit on a restricted basis,” he said last night.

“We will be working manually, as our computerised systems are down, so we ask for patience from our customers.”

The paint and body shop, which directly employs 12 staff, will not reopen in the foreseeable future.
Mr Brewin said the future of that part of the business was still “under review”.

Offers of help

He said a customer call centre would handle queries, prioritising customers who have cars or cycles that have work in progress or were destroyed by the fire.

The centre will be run from the offices of Air Care — one of a number of neighbouring businesses that stepped in to offer help.

Around 60 firefighters fought for over three hours to contain the blaze on Monday afternoon.

Huge plumes of thick black smoke could be seen across the Hamilton skyline and residents were cautioned to stay indoors amid fears over asbestos poisoning.

Police officers directing traffic around the site wore face masks and some residents evacuated their homes amid safety fears.

Explosions that bystanders said “sounded like gunshots” could be heard from within the building as the fire took hold.

Cars parked at the side of the premises 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.

None of the other buildings in the area suffered significant damage, although some businesses, including Gorham’s, were forced to close on Monday afternoon.

One bystander, among the crowds that had gathered on East Park Lane, believed the weather had helped avert a major disaster: “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.”

Evacuated

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.”

Omar Govia, whose home is also close to the site was heading out on foot on Monday afternoon with his baby-daughter Seniyah.

He said he was evacuating following warnings about asbestos and taking his daughter to his mother’s house.

Motorcycle racer Jevaughn Simons, who works in HWP’s cycle showroom, was yards away when the fire started. He said he had assumed it was a fire drill when he heard the alarm sound.

“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.”