By Ellen Zoe Golden
On November 13, the face of Tamarindo was changed. That’s the day that a devastating fire ripped through Backwash Laundry, Rosie’s Investments, Patagonia del Mar restaurant and the upstairs apartments. Just one day earlier, another fire had broken out in the condominiums in front of Langosta Beach Club, but that was contained. This fire, however, not only destroyed all these business properties, but cut through to the hearts of their owners, as well as bringing out the compassion—and anger—of the community who were awakened to the fact that Tamarindo has no fire department. In addition, the bottleneck of cars and trucks in front of the Diria stores, contributed more time to the 40 minutes that it took the Santa Cruz fire department to reach the blaze. By that time, every was gone.
One of the first people on the scene was Longboards owner Jeffrey Pickett, who saw sparks from across the street. He and his cook took a water hose and fire extinguishers, climbed a ladder behind the building to fight the fire. “Once I’d used four fire extinguishers, the fire got smaller, and when we ran out to get more extinguishers, it was just boom. It’s a blessing that the wind changed and the fire missed the gas tanks on the side of the building.”
While those working to put out the fire waited for the Santa Cruz fire department, the owner of Princess Café in the food court ran to Super Compro and asked to borrow their high pressure water hose. The staff of Super Compro closed and locked the doors in an answer of ‘no.’ Next, he went to Pacific Park for their high pressure hose, and was told they didn’t have the key to open the hydrant. “If we had an industrial water hose,” said Pickett, “we would have been able to put it out.”
While Backwash Laundry and Rosie’s Investments have been on that spot for years, it was only about a year ago that Mauro Camera renovated the corner and opened his third successful restaurant, Patagonia del Mar. He was called five minutes after the fire started, but by the time he made his way downtown 20% of the building was destroyed. When the firemen arrived, everything was gone: ovens, tables, chairs, food, 600 bottles of wine and liquors. The only left was the shell.
“Afterwards, the Fire Department said the start of the fire had been caused by a malfunction on the main electrical connection of Coopeguanacaste,” he said. “
The Tamarindo News consulted Coopeguanacaste, that explained through an e-mail, that the day of the fire no cooperative´s members´presence was requested. The company will wait for the Costa Rican Fire Engineering Department´s report to officially confirm the causes of the fire.
Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Tamarindo (ADI) made the topic of a local Fire Department the focus of a portion of the Mayorial debate that took place last month in town. “It’s 40k to the nearest Fire Department in Santa Cruz; that’s the only reason everything burned down. Also,we called the Red Cross. We did all we could but there are things that are out of our reach. It’s impossible to be effective with a fire,” lamented ADI’s secretary Teresa Okecki.
Rosie Bouali of Rosie’s Investments was shopping in San Jose when building owner Denis Herzog notified her about the fire. “Oh my God, what about my office,” she thought. “Everything is gone, all the information in the computer. Thank goodness I had my laptop with me and had some info on my clients there.” While still active working from home she is concerned about the forfeiture of walk-in clients and is thinking of getting a shipping container to work from in order not to lose the season.
Over 100 people of all nationalities showed up the following weekend to help clean up after the fire. According to Damon Mitchell, who was there: “The place was really trashed. The smell was awful. Water from the fire hoses had mixed with ash to make a muddy compound. Inside the structure, where there weren’t piles of ashy mud, food and twisted metal covered the floor. Roof tiles form the main structure, which housed the kitchen and upstairs apartments, had rained down in the fire, and embedded in the goo. Glass from broken bottles and stemware was everywhere.”
“I’m super happy for the support of the community,” Camera added. “People have been compassionate and supportive. There were Ticos, Italians, Belgians, Venezuelans, Argentineans, Gringos, etc. Because of this and the messages in social media, they gave me the force to continue.”
Camera’s plans to rebuild, but needs to figure out how.
As to his displaced employees, some have moved over to Camera’s other restaurants Patagonia and Bamboo Sushi, and some have already found new work elsewhere.
Along with ADI, Brian Bratton of Christie’s Properties and Jeff Ruzicka of Marlin Del Rey have an idea to alleviate the bottleneck of traffic around the Tamarindo Shops which hampered the Fire Department another 20 minutes. The idea would be to paint yellow lines down one side of the street to indicate no parking at all. Then deputize a local to distribute expensive tickets to those that break the rules. “The idea is to use the recent fire as a way to change the situation. It would become an embarrassment or a stigma to park on that side of the street,” explained Bratton.