Byblos fire 'wasn’t just an accident,' says owner’s brother

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 29, 2013

The owner seriously injured in a fire last year that gutted his Charlottetown restaurant told family he was struck on the head just before his business went up in smoke.

Charbel Jreije had closed his restaurant called Byblos on Oct. 1 but was still inside when the building burst into flames.

Firefighters rescued Jreije, the lone occupant in the building, pulling him from a washroom.

Few details have come from the Charlottetown police since the Charlottetown fire department turned the case over to police in mid-October.

On Monday, Charlottetown Deputy Police Chief Gary McGuigan would say only that police continue to wait for exhibits to be processed at a lab. Police hope the exhibits will help determine the origin and cause of the fire.

“It’s still an active investigation,’’ said McGuigan. “We haven’t ruled anything out.’’

George Jreije, however, was willing to shine far more light on the incident that nearly claimed the life of his brother, Charbel.

He said police asked the Jreijs not to talk publicly about the fire, but George was willing to discuss the fire with The Guardian Monday.

“I think it is going to be treated like a criminal investigation,’’ he said. “It wasn’t just an accident that’s all I can say. It was more than this.’’

George says his brother told family members that he was hit on the head as he was closing up his restaurant for the night. George said his brother then recounted waking up in the bathroom in a daze.

“He was coughing and inhaling (smoke) and opened the door not knowing what was happening,’’ said George.

He is quick to slam any suggestion that Charbel may have set the restaurant ablaze.

“We know people talk,’’ he noted.

George says his brother was passionate about the restaurant that he opened in December 2011 located in Dow’s Plaza on Belvedere Avenue across from the Superstore.

Charbel wanted to develop a brand with Byblos, he adds, creating a franchise specializing in authentic Lebanese cuisine.

George says his brother helped build a number of restaurants in the Gulf as a franchise consultant.

Charbel hopes to rebuild Byblos in Charlottetown but doctors have urged him to relax and focus on his health, says George.

Charbel continues to battle a serious lung infection that leaves him winded and weak. He is taking strong medication to treat the infection.

“He has been struggling with this,’’ said George. “He is able to walk and talk but not a lot.’’

George says his brother is angry over the fire that has caused so much pain and hardship.

“He is mad (over) what happened and why,’’ he said. “This is the biggest question mark. Who? Why? He has a ton of friends. He never had enemies all his life.’’

George says his 34-year-old brother has so much to live for, including his beautiful wife Rita who is expecting the couple’s third child and the couple’s two young children age three and 20 months.

George says the fire has been a frightening ordeal that shook many.

“We come from a very tight family,’’ he said.

“We felt like we lost him for a bit. He was almost dead...we didn’t know if we were going to see him again.’’