Haitian authorities are investigating a fire at a factory that produces essential oil for some of Europe’s top fragrance houses.
The fire occurred Tuesday morning and created “significant” damage to part of Agri-Supply Company, S.A. in the city of Les Cayes in southwest Haiti.
The company is one of the largest employers in the region. Its operations indirectly supports about 25,000 farming families, who grow the drought-resistant root vetiver, which is used in perfumes and after-shave lotions.
Farmers sell the root, found in plentiful supply in the region, to Agri-Supply. The company’s 125 workers then extract its essential oil and package it for shipment to Europe.
“This fire is a disaster that strikes at the very heart of the region's economy,” Haiti’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in a press release Wednesday. It said it was “dismayed” by what had happened. There were no injuries or deaths.
Commerce Minister Wilson Laleau recently honored the factory’s owner, Pierre Leger, for his contributions to Haiti’s economy.
Leger said he doesn’t know if the fire, which damaged part of the factory, was an accident or a criminal act. It took about seven hours to put out the flames, which started at about 10 a.m., he said.
“I am putting myself at the mercy of the authorities to figure it out,” said Leger, who coincidentally was playing host this week to a four-person delegation from Europe that came to visit the factory’s operations.
Born and raised in Les Cayes, Leger is a well-known figure in the rural region, which like the rest of Haiti suffers from a lack of employment opportunities. Leger is known for his strong advocacy of job creation over aid for Haiti.
He studied agronomy in Europe, and after returning to Haiti went back to Les Cayes to help develop the region.
In addition to his vetiver production, he and an American business partner have for years advocated for the development of a private port and airport in the region to further spur development to the area.
Leger said since the fire, he has received an outpouring of support from Haitians in-country and abroad. While recognizing how the factory has helped improved their families’ lives, some have shed tears, while looking at the damaged structure.
“It’s amazing the amount of cars and trucks that have pulled up,” he said. “This has given me strength.”