Any end in sight to fire disasters?

Fire disasters have rendered many Nigerians homeless, jobless even as they have caused citizens to commit suicide in states across the federation particularly in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). PAUL OKAH writes on the situation.

Almost on a daily basis, fire outbreaks are reported in states across the federation. There include the burning down of markets, shops, homes, vehicles, among others, with the frequency of the fire disasters is regardless of sensitisation efforts by fire fighters, state emergency Management agencies, raising questions of deliberate carelessness on the part of victims.

Also, due to negligence, carelessness or arson, fire disasters occur in different parts of the country, leading to loss of lives, sources of income and others. Apart from some incidents that go unreported in the media, fire incidents occur on a daily basis particularly during the dry season.

Victims’ lamentations

On March 22, hundreds of shops were burnt to ashes following a fire outbreak at Katsina Central Market. Many shops located at the centre of the market were destroyed. Speaking with reporters, some of the traders affected said they had no idea how the fire started, but added that they had lost everything in their shops to the fire.

A victim, Alhaji Harisu Abdullahi, whose shop was among those destroyed, said it was difficult to ascertain the cause of the fire, and has left everything in the hands of Allah, while another victim, Alhaji Aminu Ibrahim, who said his shops were burnt to ashes, noted that fire fighters were unable to reach areas where the fire started, because the access road had been blocked by shops.

Another victim, Malam Ibrahim Alaramma, who sells kitchen utensils, said he lost everything to the fire, adding that 10 of his brothers also lost everything to the fire, even as the traders urged the government and other philanthropists to come to their aid as the fire had destroyed their source of livelihood.

Statistics

In a signed document obtained by Blueprint Weekend on March 29, through the PRO of FCT Fire Service, Mr. Jerry Timveh, the head of operations of FCT Fire Service, Akinnola Segun, said between January and December, last year, the Service received 507 fire calls, 49 rescue call, saved N3, 228,000,000 billion, lost 1,105,100,000 billion, saved 140 lives, while 21 lives were lost.

Additionally, between January and February this year (the statistics for March was not yet ready at the time of filing in this report), the FCT Fire Service received 149 fire calls, seven rescue call, saved N1,336,929,730b, lost 390,756,770 million, saved 17 lives, while 10 lives were lost.

Also, on March 22, the director of Kaduna state Fire Service, Mr. Paul Aboi, said compared to 112 recorded in March, it recorded 79 fire outbreaks in February, while its personnel rescued five persons unhurt, though nine others sustained injuries, while properties worth N26 million were saved from the 79 fire incidents.

He advised business operators, especially owners of roadside eateries and suya spots, to ensure that fires were properly put out at the close of business every day to stem the tide of fire outbreaks, even as he called on residents to always switch off electrical appliances to save lives and property.

Similarly, in January, the acting director of the Zamfara state Fire Service, Abdullahi Jibbo, said it recorded 767 fire outbreaks across the state in the year 2020 across various local government offices and state headquarters of the service were all brought under control.

According to him, Gusau the state capital recorded the highest cases of 237 outbreaks followed by Kaura Namoda with 116, Talata Mafara 112, Tsafe 85 and Gummi 77. Others were; Anka 56, Shinkafi 36, Bungudu 32, Maru and Bakura, 28 each, Nasarawa 13, Birnin Magaji 11, Maradun, Jangebe and Kasuwa Daji had 10 cases each, Zurmi 8, Dansadau 6 and Bukkuyum 4.

Jibbo called on the public to desist from any act that could lead to fire outbreaks, urging market managers to enforce fire preventive regulations in all markets, even as he warned residents against hoarding petroleum products in their homes, adding that fire officials were going round to ensure that citizens obeyed fire prevention guidelines especially in their business places.

Expert’s take

In an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend, the deputy comptroller, FCT Fire Service, Adebayo Zacchaeus, said carelessness on the part of Nigerians is the major cause of fire outbreaks in different parts of the country, especially the FCT.

He said: “Carelessness is part of the reason for fire outbreaks. The FCT Fire Service is doing its very best to sensitise the general public on fire prevention, which is the best way of fighting fire, because prevention is better than cure. However, because of technological developments, new structures rise up every day with electrical appliances. Abuse and misuse of these appliances are often the cause of fire outbreaks.

“We also have natural causes like earthquake. However, carelessness is a major cause. We also have arson, where people deliberately set government properties on fire. Also, you can also see people setting the businesses of their partners on fire when they perceive their competitors doing better in business.

“In the FCT today, more than 60% of fire calls we attend to are caused by use of air conditions. However, we go out almost on daily basis to sensitise residents, which is significantly reducing fire incidents. Unfortunately, out of ignorance, many don’t believe in buying fire extinguishers, no matter the importance. They will tell you “God forbid”, that there will be no fire outbreak, but turn around to lament fire outbreaks. AEDC takes and brings light on a daily basis and they could be power surge. There is also the case of bush burning spreading to homes. You can’t prevent all this through prayers or saying ‘God forbid.’ These are what we preach against on a daily basis.”

“When there is no light, people leave their appliances on while going out. When power is restored with high voltage, the appliances then spark, causing fire outbreaks. Kugbo fire disaster is not peculiar, but recurring just like other markets in Nigeria. Right from inception, these markets did not have plans for fire service or equipment. People just build structures, without accessible roads. They build shanties, blocking existing roads. Therefore, when fire occurs, fire service cannot access the markets on time.

“Also, people have not stopped from sleeping in stalls in the markets. They put on stoves, irons and other things that cause fire day and night. You see erratic and illegal wiring that spark off fire when breached. Traders also keep petrol or fuel in their shops, thereby inviting fire. The aforementioned aggravates losses incurred in the event of fire outbreaks.

“All the fire outbreaks are preventable. Lives lost to fire outbreaks would have been saved through preventive measures. The carelessness of victims leads to loss of lives and property during fire outbreaks, though we always do our best whenever called upon. We always ensure that losses are minimal, if not totally avoided.”

Continuing, he said, “Fire service should be a collective effort. Road users, traders, office workers and others in different parts of Nigeria should know that they are all stakeholders in fire fighting and prevention. Ironically, often times, the motorists fighting for the right of way and preventing fire service often times end up being the victims as many times it is their families or relatives that we are going to rescue. Dry the rainy season, there is not much dry, combustible material like in the dry season, so fire disasters often drop by at least 40 per cent.

“In a nutshell, like we always advise, let FCT residents provide fire defence equipment inside their structures. Whenever on the way, let motorists give right of way to fire trucks going for rescue. They should obey the preventive measures we tell them daily. Attend to your cooking, keep your gas cylinders away from fire or kitchen and children. Whenever there is a fire outbreak, the FCT Fire Service number is: 092906118. The toll free number is 112. Once you call the aforementioned numbers, we will get to you within five minutes as we have fire stations in the six area councils and other parts of the FCT.”

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