Canoe fire prompts talks of security, need for fence

Posted on Jun 10 2021

File photo shows the severely burned canoe and canoe house after a fire that broke out early Monday morning. (JOSHUA SANTOS)

The fire that broke out at the canoe house near West Coast Restaurant (formerly Naked Fish Bar and Grill) in Susupe early Monday morning prompted those involved in the project and the community alike to express disappointment with the lack of security in the area and to highlight the need for it.

At the very least, the area around the canoe house needs to have a fence and Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero has reopened discussion on this with the Department of Public Lands, detailing his department’s short and long-term plans for fire safety and security of the premises.

The canoe and canoe house belong to DCCA as part of its Seafaring Traditions Program.

Project lead John Castro said that security of the area was a concern even before the projects began and remembers submitting requests to authorities to have some kind of security in the premises.

“We did put in some requests, and I don’t know what happened. Maybe things just turned the other way. …It’s upsetting now, but I’m pretty sure after what happened they’re going to have to put security now,” said Castro.

Fellow seafarer Pete Perez, who co-founded 500 Sails, is angry with what has happened: “This is a nightmare! I am so angry and upset to see this beautiful canoe suffer. We are all suffering. So much love and work went into bringing the canoe into the community. We must demand security for our cultural assets!” said Perez.

500 Sails is a nonprofit organization that, like the DCCA, is seeking to revive the CNMI’s seafaring traditions.

Social media posts of the fire’s aftermath have drawn many comments, with many expressing their sympathy for the builders and their anger at the lack of security.

“Best seal that area off from people so as not to happen again. I pray that the builders keep their heads up,” said one Facebook commenter.

“The government should start funding for [security cameras] just like elsewhere so we can get these a____ doing such things like this and punish them big time,” said another commenter.

Deleon Guerrero spoke with Saipan Tribune on Wednesday about how his department will address the public demand for security of cultural assets and shared details about the future fate of the burned canoe.

In the short-term, what Deleon Guerrero and those involved with the project have worked out is an agreement to clean the piles of wood shavings strewn on the floor of the canoe house. According to Deleon Guerrero, the fire made its way under the canoe through these shavings catching fire. “Security [and fire prevention] for now begins with small measures,” said Deleon Guerrero.

In the long-term, Deleon Guerrero has reopened talks with Department of Public Lands leaders on the necessity for fencing around the canoe house. He met with DPL officials last Tuesday.

Deleon Guerrero mentioned that he has had concerns regarding security, arson, and fire accidents for quite some time, and that “this time we don’t need to justify” why fencing is absolutely needed at the canoe house.

Deleon Guerrero said that discussions on the need for a fence first took place among DPL, then-DCCA secretary Robert Hunter, and executive director for the Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture Parker Yobei before the start of the canoe and canoe house projects, and at the time DPL chose not to pursue fencing in order to maintain free public access.

It was previously reported that the canoe was 95% unsalvageable, but Deleon Guerrero was able to share some hopeful news. Instead of completely scrapping the boat, Deleon Guerrero shared that the new plan in the meantime is to disassemble the canoe, remove the burnt pieces, and reconstruct the vessel into a 35-foot paddling canoe. While the new paddling canoe may not be able to withstand ocean travel, Deleon Guerrero is hopeful that it will make the vessel seaworthy for in-reef water travel.

As per a press release that the Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services issued Wednesday, the cause of the fire is “still under investigation and more information will be given out accordingly.”

Joshua Santos | Reporter
Joshua Santos is a Mount Carmel School AlumKnight and University of Florida Gator Grad with a passion for writing. He is one of Saipan Tribune’s newest reporters. Josh enjoys golf, chess, and playing video games with friends in his spare time. Reach out to him @rarebasedjosh on all socials.
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