I have never seen so much smoke in my entire life as I saw at the Nakumatt Downtown supermarket in Nairobi after it was engulfed in a huge fire for over 24 hours.

The choking black smoke was visible from as far as ten kilometres away from the scene of the blaze, which broke out on 28 January and had claimed the lives of 27 staff and customers and left over 30 others still unaccounted for by Sunday evening.

Hundreds of people watched helplessly as the inferno raged on, with explosions of gas cylinders and other flammable items heard from all over the city centre.

I was among the shocked city residents caught unaware by the fire as I was visiting a friend in a high-rise building near Serena Hotel, some three kilometres from the deadly scene.

On a trip to the scene 24 hours later, the incompetent Nairobi City Fire brigade team was still fighting the raging fire, assisted by colleagues from the military and from two private fire-fighting firms.

I wept with the relatives of the victims of the fire, which was blamed on a power cut which had forced the management to switch on a petrol/diesel generator at 15.00 which burst into flames.

But I wondered why the city authorities and government officials who visited the scene were only keen on the blame game while scores of people were still trapped in the burning two-storey building opposite the Sarova Stanley, a popular tourist destination.

I had expected them to engage the services of the Kenya airforce to use foam to extinguish the flames, instead of relying only on water.

Nairobi is a disaster waiting to happen as far as fire and/or disaster preparedness is concerned.

Many retail outlets in Nairobi put the emphasis on profits and not on the safety of the staff and customers.

The city fire brigade is ill equipped, poorly funded and has staff who are demoralised to face the flames with the confidence and vigour expected of them. No wonder they are notorious for always arriving late wherever there is a fire and then running out of water within a couple of minutes, to the shock and annoyance of the public.

Most water hydrants in the city of three million residents are defective and even the mayor admitted that he does not recall when they last worked.

Safety laws are not enforced, leaving bar, restaurant and bus/matatu operators to make windfall profits at the expense of the lives of their customers. Fire extinguishers are an endangered species in the city in the sun.

Odhiambo Orlale in Nairobi.

Wanted in Africa
Wanted in Africa
Wanted in Africa, part of the Wanted Worldwide network, is a website in English for expatriates in Africa established in 2006. We cover Europe's news stories that may be of interest to English speaking residents along with tourists as well. Our publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
Previous article Kenya mourns fire dead.
Next article Kenya mourns fire dead.