Fast Fire Outbreaks, Slow Emergency Response


View of the Ebute-Metta plank market fire captured from Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos

View of the Ebute-Metta plank market fire captured from Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos

IT’S been a fiery start to 2013 across the country and like most events taking precedent in Lagos State, the fury of fire, which rocked the Centre of Excellence in the last few days of last year is spreading like wild harmattan fire across the country.

From the incidents at the international wing of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos to NAFDAC’s laboratory test centre at Oshodi and the Boxing Day explosion at Jankara Market, it is becoming one too many leaving in its wake deaths and destruction.

It has often been described as the greatest servant but the worst master difficult to control when it turns into a conflagration, burning and destroying everything in its path.

And in the rage of its fury, it has no respect for anyone, not even the monarchy. A raging inferno, which started in the early hours of Wednesday and lasted three hours, razed the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, destroying 21 rooms and almost wiping out all the historical relics and artifacts in the palace.
The ‘god of fire’ as if angry at the nation, also visited ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s Hilltop mansion in Abeokuta. Though the billow of thick smoke enveloped the area and rose high into the sky, the former president described the incident as minor, but said if not for providence that made the fire to occur in the daytime and not at night, he would have suffocated to death and become history.

On New Year’s day, fire destroyed five houses near the Ikoku spare-parts market in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State. According to witnesses, the fire started at about 10am at the dumpsite of the market in Gambia Street, Port Harcourt. The fire destroyed disused cars and other spare parts at the site and later spread to surrounding buildings.

Last Friday at the Mbiama, East-West road, Port Harcourt, two people were killed with 10 others injured among many other houses and vehicles burnt when a tanker fire fell on its side and spilled its content on the road before it gutted fire.

The first reported incident in Lagos this year was on Monday, January 7 when fire razed three buildings at Ajegunle in Olodi-Apapa area of the state. The buildings, which housed a pharmacy store, boutique, transport equipment, electronic shop and a supermarket were razed after a suspected power surge from a shop in one of the buildings sparked the fire.
Just when the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) was deploying its earth-moving equipment from Jankara market, Idumota to the scene of the incident, an early evening fire gutted the biggest plank market in Ebute-Metta on Tuesday, resulting to the loss of goods worth several millions of Naira, 50 makeshift houses and the displacement of over 3,000 Lagosians.

Balls of fire and thick smoke coming from the scene could be seen from major parts of the state, while men of the Lagos State Fire Service made frantic efforts to put out the fire. According to sources who suspect an electrical fault, the fire started from one of the shops and immediately spread despite efforts of residents and shop owners to extinguish it.

The next day, it was another disaster as an explosion on board a ship servicing MRS Oil and Gas tank farm at the Tin-Can Island port sparked a major fire, disrupting operations at the depot. The explosion occurred as an oil vessel belonging to MRS discharged petroleum products at one of the company’s tank farms, witnesses said.
While dry weather has been identified as the major cause of the recent spate of incidents, storing of petrol in living houses and markets, careless disposal of cigarette stubs, adulterated fuel, power surge, electric sparks and illegal connection of electricity are all sources of fire outbreaks.

Many people have faulted the responsiveness of fire services and emergency first responders in the country, who have been reputed to always arrive late and without sufficient equipment to the scene of fire incidents. There have also been renewed calls for the federal and state governments to adequately fund the fire department and emergency agencies, while the culture of insuring properties should be imbibed by Nigerians to mitigate the damage and misery of the misfortune.