A Cornwall couple is warning people who travel often to be aware of the safety and security of their resorts, after a dangerous fire razed the Majestic Colonial Hotel where they were staying.
Rob Hickman and his wife Vanessa were looking forward to a picture-perfect vacation at the Dominican Republic resort in Punta Cana. They were attending a wedding for their friends Jason and Nathalie Jean-Louis and everything about the getaway had gone according to plan until April 15.
It was on that day that a grease fire that was sparked in the kitchen of the facility soon engulfed most of the complex.
Rob Hickman says it was just like something out of the movies.
“People were screaming. Some women were crying and some women were throwing up,” he said in an interview with Seaway News. “You could really see people panicking.”
Hickman and his wife were just settling in to watch one of the shows at the Majestic Colonial when the night-time fire broke out.
At first, Hickman said, everything appeared almost normal. He witnessed staff at the hotel chuckling, and some were even joking around, while the small fire in the kitchen smouldered.
While an official cause of the fire has not been released, Hickman said hotel staff used a fire extinguisher to put the grease fire out. It’s Hickman’s belief that the force of the fire extinguisher sent super-heated air and sparks up the kitchen chimney. It was then that the roof caught fire – and what seemed like all hell broke loose.
“As we were watching it, (the fire) jumped over to the pool bar, and then on to the spa,” Hickman said.
Many of the roofs at Caribbean resorts are thatched – nothing more than palm leaves in some cases. Hickman said the resort lit up like a Roman candle.
“It was just like watching hay burn,” he said.
Hickman said vacationers began bolting for their rooms to gather their passports, money and anything else they could carry to ensure it wasn’t consumed in the fire – at that time many were unsure how big it would get.
Hickman said he wasn’t that concerned at the time. The building that contained his room had a clay roof, and was made of concrete.
It took what Hickman believed to be the volunteer fire department more than an hour to show up (before that resort staff were battling the blaze) and in the meantime water was being sprayed on guest buildings to ensure they did not burn.
While the fire raged, in many cases so did the party. Drinks were still being served by some hotel staff.
“It was hilarious,” Hickman says now. “You’ve seen the Titanic when the guys are playing violins to the end? It was like that…they just kept serving us drinks.”
While the fire was eventually extinguished, and no one was injured or killed, the vacations of all were reduced to ashes. The Hickmans spent one night at a nearby resort, courtesy of their vacation company, before returning to the charred but functional Majestic Colonial for the balance of their stay.
So far the couple have been met with resistance from the hotel and their vacation company, because they are seeking compensation.
Hickman said their travel agent has helped to facilitate some discussions between all parties, and an investigation into compensation is being done now.
He said it’s important for travellers to be aware of their surroundings.
“You need to know whether the smoke alarms work, and where the sprinklers or fire hoses are,” he said.