Map of Castries
Market and Vendors Arcade
Derek Walcott Square
George V Park
Fire in the City
“A Catastrophe that has been termed “the
greatest calamity to be fall a Colony of its size and resources in so short
a space of time” struck St. Lucia on the night of the 19-20th June, 1948:
four-fifths of the capital was completely destroyed by fire. About 8 p.m. on
Saturday, the 19th June, the alarm of a fire which had started in a tailor’s
shop m the north-easterly part of Castries was given. There was a strong
breeze that night, fanning the flames in a south-easterly direction. This
factor, coupled with others stated in the Report of the Commission of
Enquiry Into the Causes and Circumstances of the Fire, resulted in the
conflagration getting completely out of control. Had it not been for a fire
fighting squad of the United States Air Force at Bean Field, Vieux Fort, the
flames would probably have spread back from the western end of Brazil
Street, and gutted what still remained of the town.
“All the commercial section of Castries was
destroyed, and the following Government Buildings were lost: Administration,
Customs, Treasury, Audit, Post Office, Executive Architect, Education,
Printery, Supreme Court and Magistrate’s Court, Registry, Labour and
Controller of Supplies. The Castries Town Board offices were gutted, so were
the Carnegie Library with its excellent reference section; Barclays Bank (D.
C. & 0.); Cable & Wireless (West Indies) Ltd; and the Voice Publishing Co.
All stores and their contents, apart from a few small shops on the outskirts
of the town were destroyed: commercial life was practically reduced to a
standstill for a week. The value of property destroyed amounted to over nine
million dollars. Irreparable damage was done to files, records and archives,
to those of Government as well as to those of firms and individuals. Amongst
the latter, Mr. Tom Ferguson lost an important collection of historic
‘Providentially, the electric power station
and telephone exchanges escaped damage, as also did the buildings of the
Police, Agricultural, Public Works and Medical Departments. St. Joseph’s
Convent, St. Mary’s College, the Presbytery and the Church of the Immaculate
Conception, all in the path of the fire, were saved thanks to strenuous
efforts. Very happily, no large school buildings were destroyed. Although
the Post Office was destroyed, all letters and stamps and much material were
“There was no loss of life in the fire, but
809 famines, comprising a total of 2,293 persons, were rendered homeless.
That obviously meant a considerable problem for all concerned. In gratitude
it must be said that the neighbouring Islands immediately responded to the
call for aid that was at once flashed to the outside world. Red Cross and
Police detachments from Trinidad, Grenada and St. Vincent were soon on the
scene of the disaster. H.M.S. Sparrow also promptly arrived. Thanks to the
help received from outside, widespread looting was checked and security
measures were put into effects Incidentally, much as the morale of the
victims of the fire has won praise, it cannot be denied that the attitude of
the crowd at the time of the catastrophe was far from edifying.
“The day after the fire, Government took
measures for the relief of distress. Emergency relief committees were set up
to deal with the distribution of food, clothing, household effects and
In 1796 Castries
was razed to the ground and all official and private documents and records
In 1813 only 17
years later Castries suffered heavy loss by fire when most of the town was again
destroyed, and what was left was finished off by a cyclone In 1817.
On the night of the l4th-l5th May 1927, 17 blocks of the island’s little
capital were devastated. Practically all the business section of the town was
burnt out. In addition, the Post Office, Government Spirit Warehouse, the
Magistrate’s Court-house, the Attorney General’s Office, a Friendly Society’s
Hall, and numerous residential houses, were destroyed. In spite of the efforts
made to stop it, the fire was only stopped by the sea. To relieve the distress
occasioned by the fire, the Castries Fire Relief Fund was opened: the Imperial
Treasury contributed £5,000 towards It: Colonial Governments, £6,147; Societies
and private individuals, £6,033. Unhappily, many of the properties and merchants
stocks destroyed by the fire were uninsured.
After the 1948 fire, comparatively large fires occurred in 1951, 1959 and 1960.
In 1951 a large number of houses on the Eastern side of the Chaussee known as
Fonds Le Grand were destroyed. In 1959 St. Joseph’s Convent, the Convent School
and the Chapel as well as four or five large dwelling houses went up in flames.
In 1960 the largest department store in Castries — Messrs. Minvielle & Chastanet
Ltd. — was partially destroyed. We have already mentioned elsewhere the
destruction of the Castries Fire Brigade Station itself in 1916.