580 shops affected as responders battle Balogun fire outbreak
• NEMA, Lagos fire service blame non compliance with building regulations
It was a pitiable sight, yesterday, as an early morning fire gutted the topmost section of a five-storey building in the popular Balogun Market, Lagos Island, destroying over 580 shops.
The Guardian learnt that the fire started at about 9:30.a.m., while Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Lagos State Fire and Rescue Service (LSFRS) were alerted at about 10:00.a.m.
Goods and properties worth several millions of naira were lost in the fire, which was still raging, but no life was lost in the incident by the time The Guardian left the scene. The traders claimed eight persons were taken to hospital after sustaining injuries.
Eyewitnesses said it was at 2: 32p.m. that emergency responders tried to reach where the fire was coming from, but it was a struggle as the water hose could not get to the spot.
A trader in the building, Paul Ezema, said: “The fire started at about 9:00a.m. We tried our best. We have fire extinguishers in our shops, but they didn’t work. I was unable to take anything from my shop, as everything got burnt. We have more than 800 shops in the building and I don’t know how many have been affected.”
Public Relations Officer (PRO), Lagos Island Market Association, identified simply as Ugochukwu, said it took time for the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which has cranes that could get to the spot. He said they came at 2:50.p.m.”
Giving further details, Permanent Secretary (PS), The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu said that his agency got to the scene immediately and that crowd should be blamed for the team not putting the fire out on time.
“We can’t really ascertain the cause of the fire, but the most important thing is that when it occurred, all the key stakeholders moved to the scene, after we got the report by 10:14.a.m.
“Look at the structure; they used plywood and they put highly inflammable materials. We are going to do everything to protect the building and the adjoining ones. We are battling with crowd control, however, we are trying to curb the challenges.
Asked if the agency was prepared for such a magnitude of fire outbreak, he said: “We are prepared, but the major challenge is the crowd. We brought many fire engines and members of my team were on the ground. We are faced with challenges of people preventing fire fighting equipment from moving in, but we tried.
When asked why the agency could not procure equipment like that of NPA that could put out fire in high rise buildings, he said: “We have that kind of equipment, and the NPA is also part of our first responders, we work together as a team.
On the amount of time spent to tackle the outbreak, he said: “You should be more concerned about how we dissipated our energy, how people prevented us from getting to the scene and more concerned with how people built kiosks.
“The fire remains adamant because of the nature of the stalls; there are lots of petrochemical materials in the building.
“We have been doing a lot of sensitisation and enforcement, but this is still happening.” On how to forestall similar situations, he said: “The way forward is to carry the people along and for the people to abide by building rules and regulations. As much as the government is performing its role, people need to cooperate with us. I am appealing to Lagosians to allow us to do our work.
Speaking also, Southwest Coordinator, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ibrahim Farinloye, said: “Based on preliminary investigation, 580 shops in the two buildings were affected, including the Union Bank. The fire started at the pent-floor of the five-storey building.
The traders said they were trying to put out the fire, which they couldn’t handle and started calling responders when it got out of hand. On efforts being made to prevent incessant outbreaks in the market, he said: “NEMA has been here thrice to convince traders to buy into insurance policy. We brought Insurance agencies and negotiated with them, but the traders refused to comply.
“We also advised them to engage fire marshals, where they will be trained to handle any situation, but they didn’t nominate anybody. Another option we gave them is that they should tax themselves and drill a borehole that can be called a fire hydrant, so that sourcing water when an event of this nature happens, will facilitate early response, but they didn’t yield.
“But I am sure that with this, the state government will not lie low and will take appropriate action.”