When small is not beautiful

This morning at 1.00 am, the fire brigade…the Bomberos….were called to a hotel fire in the centre of our little town.
The hotel was on the second floor….over a newly refurbished shop.
It was built of wood…sixty years old and tinder dry.

The cause of the fire is presumed to be defective electrical wiring, though both the fire brigade and the equivalent of the CID…the OIJ….are checking all possibilities.
After all, only a week ago, an exploding gas cylinder killed five people and injured many more in a little caff in San Jose.

Nomatter how brave the firemen nor how well equipped, a building going up like a torch does not offer much possibility of rescue for those inside…asleep….but the firemen managed to get two men out, one with 50% burns, the other with 30%, and have them sent to the San Juan de Dios hospital in the capital.

For five other men there was no chance….four died in their beds…one trying to get down the stairway. One can only hope that they were asphyxiated by smoke…the other possibilities do not bear thinking about.

All hope gone for the hotel, the firemen spent hours trying to limit damage to surrounding businesses…with some success. Old wood is old wood.

People knew the men who died or were injured: even I…newcomer…knew two of them to nod to and a whole community is mourning them.

It’s a small world, our little town.

But that might be one reason why they died…why two men are in appalling pain in hospital.

For this hotel had been closed down by the Health Ministry.

On inspection last year the electrical wiring had been found to be faulty and the fire extinguishers empty. The owner had been given a period of time to make things good.
A second inspection showed that the owner had done nothing and the hotel had been ordered to close by the end of December.

But it was still open for business….



Because the owner belongs to one of the ‘big’ families of the town….and in a town where everyone knows everyone else and everyone knows their place who is going to enforce the order from the Health Ministry?
Not the Mayor…not the police force….
So unless the Ministry enforces its own orders nothing will be done.

And nothing was done.

And five men have died.


53 thoughts on “When small is not beautiful”

  1. Whatever I might say (and I could say a lot!) will not comfort the dead men’s families.
    We (the noble “we” who live in the advanced countries) say “it wouldn’t happen here.”
    But it does.

  2. Poor people. What a horrible way to die and a tragedy for the whole community. ;( What are the chances of the negligent owner facing prosecution, or is he completely above the law?

    1. Prosecution….the health Ministry is talking…just talking…of taking civil action for disobedience to an order to close…the comment columns of the national press are full of people demanding the owner face charges of homicide.
      In the fairly recent past I think the owner could be sure of getting away with it…but there is a sort of Costa Rican spring going on….people are pushing back at the corruption and cronyism…

  3. I always say there is much more positive than negative about living in a small town where everyone knows your business, but this sort of abuse of responsibilities can be one of the negatives and when something like this strikes, it is a big negative. The one positive is that everyone will know this story and its background. The hotel owner will be loathed and small revenges will be taken, those who toady not respected. It’s sad. There isn’t always a hero who will take these guys on. Firemen are heroes in a different way though, and I am always full of admiration at their courage.

    1. Yes, firemen do things I would have thought impossible at times which is why I wonder what is happening to society when I see reports of them being ambushed by gangs in London.

      As to the owner…..the best way to hit him…if the law does nothing….is a rent strike. I wonder how long it would take before non paying tenants were in court?

  4. What a sad tale.
    It is for this very reason that police officers (and game wardens) are rarely stationed anywhere near their home communities here. Spain does recognise some of its limitations.

  5. There’s “small town” stuff happening in my own small town right now. Its consequences will not be so tragic, though. A sad tale, yours.

  6. What a sad story. I suspect if everyone knows everyone else that the commuity will, in future, make life very uncomfortable for the ‘big’ family owner.
    Sadly, this is of no comfort whatsoever to the bereaved family and friends.

    1. I know the owner slightly, through his sister and am sure he will be heartbroken at the consequences….but not enough to take responsibility…he is already saying he did not receive notification to close down…

  7. Dreadful. Absolutely dreadful – and so frustrating that there is so little done to adequately address the situation. As you say, five men died. It should never have been ‘business as usual’ once the problems were identified and, although I’m not cynical by nature, when I hear about such corruption and lack of respect for human life and safety, I very quickly think the worst of anything that happens. This ‘accident’ included.

    1. So many old buildings are made from wood…so fire precautions should be rigorous.
      I can understand families who can’t afford to make upgrades….but a hotel is a different case.

      I begin to hear ‘friends’ of the owner putting it about that it was almost a sort of ‘charitable’ effort on his part…housing the two old boys and people needing cheap rooms….
      But they paid for the ‘charity’ in money and with their lives.
      It’s a disgusting proposition to be making….that was a commercial venture and everyone knows it.

  8. Hi, Helen. I read about this in the news the other day. Coming on the heels of the horrific nightclub fire in Brazil that killed hundreds, one wonders when regulation will make a comeback, or, in the case of emerging market countries, a start. Terrible *non-accident* and a sad time for the families of those who died. I recall a couple of years ago when a bridge collapsed and killed a bunch of people in a bus, heads rolled at agencies overseeing such things. Let us hope something comes of this.

    Speaking of small worlds, you live in the same town as a writer friend of mine. Myra and her husband are both American expats and have rented a small house in your area. Have you met? You can find her blog at http://www.scribblegal.com.

    1. Yes…the bridge accident was in this area.
      Looks as though one head is on the block already…the local agent who was supposed to do the closing down…but that won’t even start to sort the crony mentality that allows this to happen.

      Yes, I met Myra once and know of her blog…

  9. Whether it’s a big city night-club or a small town hotel, tragedies like this are huge for all concerned and the callous lack of care and responsibility of the owners is identical in both cases. I bet that the cheap rooms came with very few facilities and I can’t see the owner having been willing to carry a loss for long. Crocodile tears make me sick, as does the corrupting effect of power and money. I’m so very sorry for your little town, Helen, and the grief and anger people are experiencing.

    1. It now seems that one exit was ‘locked’ electronically (no, I have no idea how that would work) and the other blocked shut by a heavy battery.

      So sickening, the hypocrisy….

      So sickening that the safety of ordinary people does not matter….

  10. Your remarks about the people pushing back, a Costa Rica spring, are hopeful. May it not take another illegal building to tip opinion.

  11. I wish this could be published in one of the major papers in the country. It is so much and so poignant an example of how groups work – no matter where in the world they are. Probably not all of those people that have the power through money or position are bastards, but those that are are prevalent in their misdeeds, and we have no recourse but to bitch within our empathy for those who are harmed by the outreach of their egos. If we could figure out why in the dynamic of sociological positioning in groups there are those that have and those that don’t, those that pose and those that are authentic, those that choose to live a life of ‘have’ within the ‘have-nots,’ we might alleviate quite a bit of suffering. I think it might be that our dna is lacking an empathy gene in some of us.

  12. Dreadful tragedy, but sadly all too common in countries where health and safety is not a priority. I would like to think that heads would roll but they probably won’t.

  13. There you are! Thanks for the visit. I’m so sorry to hear about this tragedy. How awful. things like this are just so tragic, especially when they should have and could have been prevented.

    1. We all have the ‘putting off until tomorrow’ urge…especially where having to spend money is concerned…but it’s not acceptable when you are responsible for the safety of others.

  14. A long pause, a moment of silence, for the men who died and the two who have a very painful existence ahead of them. A blessing to them and the firefighters. Shame on those who do nothing. Thank you for posting this, Helen. It was hard to click “like”. Paulette

  15. Such a tragedy, and for once I’m short of words.

    I find it upsetting when the old people in my village die naturally, they are so much a part of the scenery and with them dies a part of the past (ie the Franco civil war past), they have so much to share with us all.

    I once stayed at a hotel in India that was basically timber and spent most of the night awake terrified in case it went up in flames. Obviously it didn’t but your sad and upsetting story proves that sometimes they do.

  16. Why and how, why and how indeed. Imagine losing your father to such a situation, or brother?

    It’s great you bring awareness. I await changes.

    1. Difficult to say. You know what it’s like in the immediate aftermath…rumours of all sorts….but there’s a feeling that if this is the old gang at work, if there’s any cover up, then there will be repercussions in other areas of civic life.

  17. How very sad. I think everyone has passed all the comments that crossed my mind reading this. Sadly it will not bring back the men that never made it, and it will not help the ones who are in pain now and who will be scarred for the rest of their days. Hope all is well with you both. Diane

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