Another season of avoidable fire outbreaks

This week, a fire outbreak was reported at Iddo terminal in Ebute Metta area of Lagos State. According to the Director-General of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA),  Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, the fire was caused by a power surge when electricity was restored at shanties behind the terminus. He indicated that while there appeared to be no loss of life during the incident, the agency was working with the Lagos and federal fire services to control the fire and curtail the extensive spread of the flames. Earlier this month, a tragic fire razed the Tipper Garage Market on 3rd Avenue in Gwarimpa area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. Six traders trapped in their stalls, having passed the night there, lost their lives in the incident. According to eyewitnesses, a faulty electrical spark in one of the lock-up shops caused the inferno.

The fire, which started at midnight, lasted over two hours before it was put out by the men of the FCT Fire Service. Goods worth millions of naira went up in flames, traders sustained varying degrees of burns, and many houses around the market went up in flames. Reacting to the incident, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs Sadiya Umar Farouq, directed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to assess the extent of damage with a view to immediately providing relief materials to victims. In a statement issued by her Special Assistant on Media, Nneka Ikem Anibeze, the minister said she was “deeply saddened by the incident,” describing it as tragic.

In recent weeks, there have been fire outbreaks across the country. Huge losses have been incurred in fire outbreaks in Oyo, Lagos, Kano, Sokoto and Ogun states. Major cities and towns across the country have witnessed tragic fires in the last few weeks since onset of the dry season. Evidently, the disasters have stretched firefighters beyond their limits, with some victims venting their spleen on the officers and men of the firefighting agencies. To be sure, most of the incidents were clearly avoidable. Quite a number of the disasters were due to rickety tankers conveying combustible fluids that typically trigger fire outbreaks with the slightest commission of error of human judgment. Other major factors have included electrical faults and power surges. There is, of course, the issue of the substandard electrical parts now commonly used in the country. Indiscriminate bush burning and carelessness with items like candles and cigarette stubs, as well as faulty power generating sets have taken their toll, and it is time to embrace great vigilance in the use of seemingly innocuous items.

Obviously, there is a need for continuous public awareness campaigns on the avoidable tragedies. In the past, state governments took the issue very seriously and the airwaves were suffused with jingles appealing for vigilance in the use of combustible items, and dramatizing the tragic consequences of outbreaks. There is no reason to shelve such campaigns. Besides, there is no doubt that the country could do with more efficient and transparent monitoring and supervision by government agencies in charge of the environment, town planning and other issues. This would, among other things, curb the indiscriminate location of filling stations and the attendant catastrophe witnessed during fire outbreaks. The foregoing notwithstanding, there is nothing to be gained in underfunding and under-equipping the firefighting agencies. It is easy to pillory the personnel of these agencies for poor responses during outbreaks, but care must be taken to ensure that they are adequately equipped to handle emergencies. Curbing fire outbreaks requires discipline, vigilance and responsiveness.

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