Scenes of the banger fire.
| credits: Sodiq Adelakun
There was confusion in Jankara Market, Isale Eko area of Lagos State on Wednesday after a building containing a stockpile of firecrackers caught fire, killing at least one person and injuring 40 others.
Our correspondents observed that at least 12 buildings were razed by the fire while 10 vehicles were completely burnt.
According to residents, the fire started from a makeshift warehouse located on 45 Ojo Giwa Street at about 9:30am.and spread to other houses.
An occupant of the building where the fire started from, Chibuzor Ukandu, said it started around 9am. Ukandu, who owned an electronic store on the ground floor of the two-storey building, said he lost all his property.
He said, “Around 9am, I was attending to a customer when I heard a loud explosion. Before I knew it, fire had started spreading very quickly.
“I tried to issue my customer a receipt before evacuating my goods but the fire was spreading so fast. The explosion occurred again and I managed to pull out only my customer. All my goods were burnt.”
It was learnt that the explosions caused pandemonium as many people thought they were bomb blasts.
Fire fighters were seen attempting to put out the fire for hours as smoke billowed from the affected buildings. The fire, however, continued to rage as the explosives continued to go off.
Some of the buildings affected by the fire were warehouses and shops for traders on the Island. Items stored in those building, included electrical accessories, electronics equipment, and household items among others.
Chairman of Lagos Island East Local Government, Mr. Kamal Bashua, said his office would carry out a discrete probe into the matter with a view to fishing out the perpetrators of the act.
He said, “We have been trying to curtail what comes into our market, I cannot explain how these people beat our security to bring in explosives like these. Thank God that as at now, no life has officially been declared lost.
“It is disheartening to see that fireworks that look like bomb could be imported. The fire has put down over 10 buildings. By the time you go to the next street, you will discover that this fire has affected many houses. We are trying to make sure that it does not escalate.”
A resident of the area, who is also an eyewitness, Kehinde Shotimu, said the explosives were brought into the building on Sunday.
He noted that the store was owned by a Chinese but managed by a Nigerian, who is responsible for the distribution of the firecrackers to retailers in Lagos markets.
He added, “Unless we want to deceive ourselves, we all know that there were dangerous explosives in the building. The store is a major distributor of fire crackers in Lagos and many customers come here for them. It is just unfortunate that this is happening today that is a day for celebration.
“The store is owned by a Chinese who regularly comes here whenever the firecrackers are to be offloaded. They just offloaded some three days ago in a container of about 240ft.”
Four streets affected
An eyewitness, Aji Qudus, who explained that the cause of the fire was not clear, lamented the slow response of the fire service.
“More than 10 houses were burnt and 15 cars completely damaged. The fire spread over four streets –Ojo Giwa, Okoya, Oko Awo and Moshalashi streets. I cannot actually say what the cause of the fire is, but it was beyond imagination,” he said.
One of the traders whose shop was also affected, Mrs. Shogunle, explained that the fire was caused by a small boy who lighted a cracker that hit the room where the explosives were kept.
She said, “I learnt a small boy caused the explosions. He was playing with crackers and raised it up to blow. Unfotunately, it hit the store where other explosives were stored and the fire escalated.
“But, apart from this, the store where the explosives are kept is too hot. The temperature is high there and there is no ventilation. This will surely contribute to the high rate of explosion.”
Director of Lagos State Fire Service, Mr. Fadipe, complained that the mammoth crowd at the scene prevented more fire-fighting trucks from moving in and supporting firefighters.
Fadipe said, “Some of the buildings are about to collapse but we have been prevailing on the residents to vacate the residence but they refused. The major factor hindering our service now is crowd control.
“Our fire-fighting vehicles are around but they cannot come in here because of the crowd. The police and the military are trying their best but the crowd still persisted. But I can assure you that if more of our fire-fighting trucks move in here, the fire would be contained.”
South West Zonal Information Officer, National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, said the first-hand information the agency got was that firecrackers caused the fire.
He added that the absence of water hydrant in the area frustrated the emergency officials putting out the fire.
“Our major challenge is the lack of a water hydrant in any of the buildings in this area. Besides, the non-compliance with urban development laws which provides that there should be at least a six- metre gap in between buildings made the fire spread swiftly. As it is, over 40 people have been injured,” he said.
Families besiege hospital
It was learnt that six vehicles were used to convey the injured to hospital.
When one of our correspondents visited General Hospital, Marina, Lagos, the emergency unit was packed with about 20 of those injured in the incident.
Their family members waited outside with apprehension as doctors attended to them.
One of the victims, Jimoh Ahmed, who suffered a leg fracture, said he jumped down from the second floor of the building housing his shop, adding that he thought it was a bomb attack.
He said, “I heard a loud bang around 9:30 and the bang kept on sounding. Afterwards, the wall of my shop started peeling off and the door leading out of my shop collapsed.
“I looked outside through the window and saw flames emanating from one of the buildings around and I concluded that it was a bomb attack. I then jumped through the window of my shop which is on the second floor.”
Another victim, Waheed Bashiru, who was writhing in pains after taking X-ray examination of his leg, said he came down through the pipe supplying water to his apartment when his residence went up in flames.
Police arrest looters
Policemen attached to Area ‘A’ Police Command, Lion Building, Lagos led by the Area Commander, Mr. Imohinmi Edgal, arrested about 10 persons who attempted to loot the affected buildings.
One of the looters was caught stealing a stabiliser from one of the stores.
It was learnt that the looter was one of those hired by one of the storekeepers to help evacuate her goods from the store.
He was arrested when the security men at the scene noticed that he was diverting the stabiliser to an obscure place different from the destination of other recovered goods.
Dead victim recovered
At about 1:45PM, NEMA Incident Response Vehicle brought a corpse from the scene of the incident to the General Hospital, Marina, Lagos.
It was learnt that the corpse was that of a teenage boy whose identity was yet-to-be identified as it was burnt beyond recogntion.
A middle-aged man who was identified simply as Quadri said he followed the corpse from the scene to see if it was that of his younger brother who had been missing since morning.
He said, “My teenage cousin who was playing around the neighbourhood when the incident happened is nowhere to be found. I came to see if the body is that of my brother.
“His father, mother and siblings sustained injuries and are being taken care of in the emergency ward.”
One of our correspondents overheard one of the doctors who went to check the corpse saying that a DNA test would have to be carried out to identify the deceased.
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency has said that security agencies would investigate the cause of the explosions.
A statement by the spokesperson for NEMA, Mr. Yushau Shuaib, said the fire had been brought under control.
“While security agencies would investigate and determine the real cause of the explosion and fire outbreaks, casualty figures have yet to be determined but some residents who were injured while assisting with putting off the fire have been taken to hospital for treatment. So far no death has been recorded,” he said.
Although firemen from the Lagos State Fire Service, Lagos Island East Fire Service and Lagos State Emergency Agency were battling the flame, parts of some of the buildings were still burning as at 4pm when our correspondents left the scene.
Source: PUNCH NIGERIA.
BY FRIDAY OLOKOR, ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, TEMITAYO FAMUTIMI AND SODIQ OYELEKE