By Heppilena Ferguson
A small fire at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) last night damaged the stage and curtains and led to the shocking discovery of an apparent explosive device underneath the stage.
Just after 9 last night passers-by as well as persons in the vicinity of the cultural centre saw smoke coming from the top of the building and the Guyana Fire Service was summoned. The acrid fumes emanating from burnt wires and the stage curtains were contained about 20 minutes after firemen arrived. But just as they were assessing the damage in the presence of Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony, ranks began to break open parts of the cultural centre stage fearing that there might be a fire underneath. It was then that they discovered the device which sent everyone scampering for safety. The device comprised four small blue cylinders enmeshed in wires and part of it was covered in a black plastic bag.
It appeared to have been deliberately set there so that the burning curtains might ignite it. The second and third blocks of the curtains were severely burnt and the debris was still smoking on the stage where it fell and also caused the stage floor to start burning. Firemen opined that the fire started on the curtains and as the burnt pieces fell, flames spread to the floor.
Who had access to the NCC to plant the device is likely to be focused on by
the cultural centre administration today.
When this newspaper arrived on the scene the building was filled with smoke but many ventured inside to see the damage done. Some firemen flung open doors to ventilate the building as others assisted in mopping up the debris.
The firemen were advised that there was padding under the stage and so they began breaking open the flooring. Minutes after, the device was found and while some reached over to take a glance many headed for the doors.
later told reporters that he was at home when he received the call that there
was a fire at the cultural centre. The minister said luckily the firemen had
already been contacted and their subsequent prompt response averted what could
have been a major disaster.
The cultural centre is currently hosting a number of stage shows and is one of the major venues for theatrical and other performances for Carifesta 10 scheduled to begin in August.
“I hope whoever is doing this will desist from any further activities”,
Anthony stated. He said he was saddened at the damage caused.
Asked about this attack in light of another last month on the culture ministry building located on Main Street when channa bombs were hurled into the compound, Anthony said the police would have to advise on the nature of the device they discovered. From its look though, the minister concluded that it was an explosive device.
On the night when the ministry building was attacked, two armed men had exited a vehicle and discharged a number of rounds to the northern side of the ministry, damaging the walls and shattering windows.
Asked whether additional security arrangements would be put in place, Anthony told reporters that currently a private security firm was manning the building. That security service is Brans Security Service.
However Anthony said in wake of last night’s incident an internal review would have to be conducted to ascertain what really happened.
Margaret Lawrence, Simone Dowding, Winfield James and a number of popular
names in theatre looked on in dismay at the condition of the stage while the
firemen were still wetting curtains to ensure that there was no sign of
combustion anywhere else.
Dowding recalled that only yesterday she was at the centre for rehearsals. She became emotional as she and many other questioned why anyone would want to destroy the building.
The centre was built in time for the 1972 Carifesta and even though it was not fully completed, James recounted to this newspaper that coconut branches were used at some parts since it was also a prime venue for the event.
In the washroom
A security guard who maintained his distance in the security booth and away from the hive of activity told this newspaper that he reported to work at seven last night but was in the washroom at the time the fire may have started.
“I went in the toilet and when I come out I walk and go at the front and then I see the smoke,” he said.
He was unable to say who contacted the police and the fire service. However he said that within minutes several persons filled the compound. Asked whether he noticed anyone strange in the compound, the security guard who appeared at a loss for words said he couldn’t remember seeing anyone.
This newspaper learnt that another security guard, who was not accessible at the time this newspaper arrived, said he double-checked the building and was sure that all the doors were locked. He told reporters that when he later noticed the smoke, he found that there was a back door which seemed ajar.
Armed policemen remained at the scene up to early this morning and the device had not yet been removed.