Red colors during sunset on Holbox Island

Flames in Paradise: Fire on Isla Holbox

The Hotels Mawimbi and Casa Las Tortugas Became Victims of a Tragic Fire

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In the night of 11/28/2022, a momentous fire occurred at Playa Grande, in the northwest of the island of Holbox in Mexico. According to eyewitnesses, the fire broke out around 10:00 pm at the Hotel Casa las Tortugas. The unfavorable wind at this time spread the embers further to the adjacent Hotel Mawimbi, so that already shortly before midnight both hotels were ablaze.

Hotel Casa las Tortugas on Isla Holbox before the fire
The hotel Casa las Tortugas before the destruction by the flames

Little is known about the exact cause of the fire. It was reported that a gas tank had exploded at Casa Tortugas, but short circuits in the power lines are usually the most common cause of such fires, which could have caused the tank to burst as a result.

Tip: For a detailed update on the current status and more info, check out our new article “The Rebuilding of the Hotels Mawimbi and Casa Las Tortugas“.

There Is No Fire Department on Isla Holbox!

Particularly distressing is the fact that Holbox does not have its own fire department. The nearest fire station is on the mainland in the small town of Kantunilkín, which is about 40 km away from Chiquilá. Although the fire department was alerted at an early stage, it did not arrive in Holbox until much too late in the early morning of the next day.

In order to get to the island, the fire trucks first had to be loaded onto a special but slow freight ferry in Chiquilá, which took up valuable time in addition to the long crossing. By the time the firefighters arrived, the fire had already destroyed most of the two hotels and all that was left for them to do was to extinguish the last pockets of fire and secure the accident site.

The lack of a fire department in Holbox has long been a grievance that has been pointed out repeatedly by the local population. There have been several fires in the past that have severely damaged hotels. Only in May of this year, a fire broke out on the palapa roof of the Hotel Amaité, which fortunately did not spread to other buildings and could be quickly extinguished.

The Inhabitants of Holbox Island Helped Themselves – As Best They Could

When the fire at the Casa las Tortugas Hotel was noticed, an unprecedented relief effort by the island’s residents ensued. The news literally spread like wildfire on social media, prompting hundreds of people from the surrounding area to run to the scene with buckets, tubs and other containers, as well as hoses and pumps. The vigilante group assembled on short notice, consisting of workers, staff from surrounding hotels and restaurants, local residents and even tourists, did their utmost to minimize the damage.

The eager helpers formed columns to fill buckets with seawater, passed hand after hand, and began to extinguish the flames in the areas of the two hotels that were still accessible. By wetting the roofs of outbuildings, they tried to prevent the fire from spreading further. Others tried to bring seawater from the beach at least close to the hotels using hoses and their own pumps, but this did little to reduce the damage because the pipes were too short. Meanwhile, some people tried to save as many objects as possible from the rooms not yet caught by the fire and from the outside areas, carrying them to the beach.

And yet, despite all the effort and exemplary comradely efforts, the two hotels, Mawimbi and Casa Tortugas, which were certainly among the best accommodations on Isla Holbox, were completely destroyed. Miraculously, neither people nor animals were seriously injured or even killed.

The Next Day the Authorities Arrived

Immediately after that fateful night, around noon, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, Mara Lezama, came to the island with her staff to visit the site of the accident and pledge state assistance. The fire destroyed important documents belonging to tourists from Germany, Belgium, France, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. Mrs. Lezama said that in cooperation with the Interior Minister of the Federal Government, everything is being done so that they can start their journey home or onward despite the lost papers.

As usual for politicians, the cooperation with the municipalities of Lázaro Cárdenas and Benito Juárez in the firefighting efforts was also positively highlighted, although they could not change the sad outcome. Much more important was the promise of the authorities that finally an own fire station will be built on Isla Holbox. When this is to go into operation, no one could say at this time, of course.

Unfortunately, due to the design of the buildings in this part of the Caribbean, such dangerous situations occur repeatedly. The supporting framework of the buildings is mostly made of wood, while the walls are more of a screen and on top of it is a so-called palapa roof made of dried palm leaves. If such a house is caught by the flames for the first time, it burns down in a very short time.

Therefore, a functioning fire station with the shortest possible response time and with appropriate equipment can contribute significantly to better protect the buildings and the lives of residents and tourists on Holbox Island. It is hoped that the commitment to the construction project of the fire station will be implemented as soon as possible.

The Reconstruction of the Hotels Has Already Begun

The fire destroyed a total of about 60 rooms for about 100 guests at the Mawimbi and Casa las Tortugas. As both hotels have already announced, they will be rebuilt as soon as possible. It is expected that the work will take about half a year, so that they can reopen for operations by the 2023 summer season.

Tip: If you have already booked a vacation in one of the two hotels in the period before summer 2023 and have not yet been informed, we strongly recommend that you contact the Hotel Mawimbi or the Hotel Casa Tortugas. In such cases, the hotel operators usually try to organize an equivalent substitute hotel, so that the desired stay can still take place.

In any case, we can say from our own positive experience that especially these two hotels will do their best to give their guests a nice time on Holbox despite the adverse circumstances – and also that the reconstruction usually happens faster than one would expect.

Hotel Mawimbi on Isla Holbox before the fire
Hotel Mawimbi before the fire in November 2022

We especially wish Onny and Carmello from Hotel Mawimbi that the damage can be repaired quickly and that your home and for us the most beautiful hotel on the whole island will soon shine in new splendor.

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