The day after a blaze ripped through the second level of Mongoose Junction I, destroying two businesses and causing damage to others, employees and business owners Saturday morning were assessing damage and removing debris while awaiting insurance and V.I. Fire Service inspections.
VIFS officials declined to comment until their investigation was complete.
“We can’t make a statement at this time,” VIFS Assistant Director Darryl George said Friday. “Additional information about the blaze should be available by Monday.”
A VIFS fire marshall was seen arriving at Mongoose Junction around 1 p.m. Saturday to investigate the fire that was mostly contained to the second level of the open-air Cruz Bay shopping complex.
No injuries were reported except for one VIFS official, who was transported to Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center due to smoke inhalation, according to St. John Rescue officials.
Several residents who work in the popular shopping complex said the fire originated in a dryer at the Beauty Lounge earlier than initial reports had indicated. The fire was already smoldering at 11:15 a.m., at which point it quickly erupted into flames.
Both VIFS Cruz Bay and Coral Bay stations were called and additional back up fire crews responded from St. Thomas. Fire trucks were seen at Mongoose Junction by 11:45 a.m. and remained there after 4:30 p.m. Friday.
By the time the flames – which at one point shot at least 30 feet in the air, according to eye witness accounts — were extinguished, the Beauty Lounge, St. John Brewer’s the Tap Room and the office of Mongoose Junction owner and developer Glen Speer (which is also used by Caravan Gallery) were gutted.
The door to Speer’s office was burned and the part of roof above the office, which abuts the Beauty Lounge, had collapsed. Charred tables and chairs peeked through broken windows of the Tap Room.
Empty, burnt windows at the Beauty Lounge also showed destruction and charred remains of the salon. Nearby on the second floor, Caravan Gallery did not appear to have suffered severe damage from the fire.
On the first floor of the shopping complex, flames damaged part of the canvas ceiling of Ocean Grill Restaurant. Water and smoke damages the Fabric Mill’s inventory of clothing and shoes, as well as the North Shore Deli.
The electrical power remained off at Mongoose Junction I on Saturday afternoon, with yellow police tape blocking the entrances from the front roadway, the side parking lot and Mongoose Junction II. The shops and restaurants at Mongoose Junction II did not suffer significant damage other than some smoke, and were open for business Friday evening and Saturday.
A sign on Friends of V.I. National Park Store, located on the first level of Mongoose Junction I, read “We Hope to Be Open Monday.” That sentiment was also expressed by the owners of Sugar Bird, located next door to Fabric Mill, which escaped significant water and smoke damage. An employee of Ocean Grill said the restaurant’s owners hoped to be open by Sunday evening for dinner service.
With business owners working to clean up and reopen as quickly as possible, questions about the inefficient VIFS response to the blaze began to emerge Saturday. The afternoon was reportedly “chaos,” according to one Mongoose Junction employee, with complaints ranging from VIFS officials arriving without respirators, having insufficient water and twice running out of water to having to wait for St. Thomas crews to arrive with flame retardant.
One eyewitness resident pinned the VIFS response problems on government officials, not the responding fire fighters.
“Honestly, I think the Fire Department did a fantastic job with what they have,” said the St. John resident who asked to not be named. “They didn’t have sufficient equipment or infrastructure to do their job. They were all very brave and they physically worked hard. It’s more an issue with the government, not the employees.”
A building the size of Mongoose Junction should have a stand pipe, the resident said.
“There isn’t a water stand pipe for that building and any building of that size should have one,” said the resident. “Once the water ran out, we had to tap into the cistern while they had water trucks coming. We borrowed a crash pump from the National Park, but couldn’t prime it and we were finally able to borrow one. We combined four hoses and ran them into the water truck which was filling the fire truck.”
St. John VIFS officials were battling the blaze with water and didn’t get fire retardant until the St. Thomas VIFS crew arrived, the resident said.
“The St. Thomas Fire Department brought the fire retardant over and they arrived after the Coral Bay crew arrived,” said the resident. “If the response had been faster and more efficient, the damage would have been significantly less.”
As cleaning continued at Mongoose Junction, residents already began raising funds for employees and business owners in need. Checks can be made through the St. John Revolving Fund with a note detailing which business to send the checks to and mailed to Connections, P.O. Box 37, St. John, VI, 00831.