Fury of fire everywhere

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ONE after another, major fires are exploding across Nigeria. Therefore, there is an urgent need to direct exceptional efforts towards reducing the quantum of deaths and losses arising from perennial fire outbreaks across the country.

From residential to public buildings, fire continues its destructive nature across states unabated. This trend should not be allowed to go on, especially considering the fact that many of the incidents are avoidable. The majority, as experts have noted, can be checked by ensuring quality electric wiring and fusing buildings with necessary fire safety gadgets with training of preventive measures.

Just on Thursday, the FCT Abuja Tipper Garage Market went up in flames. The midnight blaze killed six persons and destroyed several properties. Last year recorded troubling fire cases and sadly, the situation has started in 2021 with new cases recorded across some states last month. Traders at a trailer park at Akinyele community in Ibadan in the Akinyele Local Government Area of Oyo State have yet to get over the losses they incurred when fire gutted the place in January. The incident occurred around 4am and affected many shops, destroying food and provisions, household wares, spare parts, kegs of diesel and other products.

Public offices are also not left out. A section of the Treasury House, headquarters of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, was gulped by fire in 2020. Last month, fire also razed the Nigeria Immigration Service headquarters in Abuja. In the same month, goods worth millions of naira were destroyed when fire gutted the Alade Market in the Somolu area of Lagos State.

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The fire, which destroyed 70 lock-up shops, was traced to a power surge. Also, fire destroyed property worth millions at the Alaba International Market located on the Owerri-Aba Road in Owerri (a replica of the one in Lagos) and a filling station in Nnewi, Anambra. Last December, a worker with an oil firm was confirmed dead and another injured in a gas fire at the processing unit of the Qua Iboe Terminal in the Ibeno LGA of Akwa Ibom State. In 2019, a three-month-old baby, Mohammed Sani, died in a fire incident in Kano. Fire razed 15 shops and damaged other property at the Owode-Onirin Market in Lagos State in 2019.

In February 2020, Lagos recorded four fire incidents within two hours at different locations in the state. In December 2020, traders at the Yakasuwa Market, 6th Avenue in Gwarimpa, Abuja, wept as fire destroyed wares estimated at millions of naira. The fire started from a shop and spread into other shops, destroying everything in its wake.

Sokoto, like many states in the North, has recorded fire incidents. Fire gutted part of the Sokoto Central Market and destroyed about 20 shops. Fire incidents are habitual in Nigeria. The Federal Fire Service in a report said it saved property worth N19.54 billion from various fire incidents in the country in 2012, while property valued at N5.95 billion was lost to the incidents during the period. The statistics indicated that 185 lives were lost in 470 fire incidents in 2012 and 262 lives lost to 368 fire incidents in 2011. This situation is perturbing for a petrodollar economy struggling to breathe amid the drop in global oil price.

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The situation is alarmingly disturbing with the disclosure by the FFS during the 2018 Fire Fighters Day in Abuja that apart from loss of lives, over N5 trillion was also lost to inferno between 2013 and 2018.

The country’s fire emergency safety preparedness is poor. Several households lack fire safety gadgets with scanty understanding of fire precautions. Operations of fire service across the states are substandard with poorly-trained personnel. Many fire incidents had wreaked havoc before the arrival of fire-fighters who usually blame insufficient equipment and manpower for slow emergency response time.

The service has to live up to its statutory mandate of preventing and mitigating fire disasters. Fire-fighters must be proactive by arriving fire scenes early, combating fire and curtailing its spread. This can be achieved if states complement efforts of their fire services by encouraging constant training of fire-fighters. Causes of fire incidents in Nigerian markets and homes include faulty electrical cables, power surge, shoddy electrical wiring, damaged power appliances and lack of fire extinguishers.

The construction of most markets does not make room for emergency situations as fire-fighters often struggle to access the markets during emergencies. Construction and fire safety experts have an onerous task in partnering to reverse the trend.

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In Europe and many advanced countries, smoke alarms are obligatory in residential houses. They also promote safety checks of high-rise buildings and evacuation drills. Nigeria should adopt these methods to curb the recurring fire disasters in the country. The FFS, among other responsibilities, is to ensure effective discharge of the functions of state’s fire services and encourage the establishment of adequate fire stations and fire posts by state fire services. These goals must be fully pursued and achieved in line with global best practices. “Your best insurance against a similar occurrence is a comprehensive fire safety plan,” says WSPS Account Manager, Jennifer MacFarlane.

It is likely that the trend will continue as climate change is part of the rising fire outbreaks. The drier, hotter air and deeper droughts, it is argued, are creating more flammable ecosystems — that are making these fires bigger and more dangerous. Therefore, prevention and control are the best bet. Steps to help prevent fires, especially fire safety laws and codes, should be strictly enforced in private and public buildings.

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