Goods worth millions of naira were reportedly destroyed in a fire incident at the popular Onitsha market. This is not the first time fire is gutting the market which raises the question regarding the effectiveness of the fire service in that commercial town. The Onitsha market fire happened on the heels of similar disaster at the Owerri new market that harbours traders who deal in auto spare parts and where goods estimated at hundreds of millions of naira were destroyed.
However, the Owerri market disaster is suspected to be politically- motivated especially in the light of the face off between the Imo state government and the traders over plans to relocate the market. It was speculated that the fire disaster was a ploy to hasten the process since the traders were adamant in their objection to the relocation plan.
That might have been an exceptional case as fire incidents are commonplace occurrences and have become typical of every harmattan season. There have been spates of fire outbreak recently since the onset of the harmattan season. The outbreaks cited above are only a few of such destruction and loss of property to fire lately.
While the causes of these fire incidents remain a subject of speculation, in some cases, the inability of fire service operatives to respond in good time has often been said to be the reason for the extent of damage recorded during those fire incidents.
Recently, officials of the Lagos State Fire Service raised the alarm over the increasing rate of fire incidents in the state with a call on residents to be more vigilant. The same warning should go to all residents in cities and even in the rural areas.
We are worried by the destruction of property and loss of lives in all these. It is equally disturbing that at this point in the nation’s history, many states in the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which according to its master plan ought to have at least one fire station per district, cannot boast of an efficient fire fighting system. Stories abound of how fire fighting officials reportedly turned down emergency calls, citing lack of water hydrants and fuel in the trucks. In cases where they respond, it is usually not swift enough to effectively manage the situation.
There is, therefore, the need for people to be more careful in the handling of inflammable materials especially at this harmattan season. This is important even as the fire service debunked insinuations that weather is a major cause. However, there is no doubting the fact that the season contributes to its spread, hence the need for people to be cautious and avoid bush burning. But the argument of this newspaper is hinged on the urgency of inculcating in the populace the habit of preventing fire incidents before they occur. We are not disposed to joining issues with those who dwell on the blame game. That, in our view, is counter productive and does not help the situation on ground which is that with all hands on deck, fire will cease to be a destructive agent it is presently. Whether it has to do with the weather, carelessness in the part of the people or the perceived ineffectiveness of the fire service is irrelevant at this point. What is needed is a collaborative approach to preventing fire before it occurs and stopping it from causing severe damage when it accidentally occurs.
More importantly, we urge the governments at all levels to properly equip the fire services, where they exist, with modern equipment and set up new ones where they do not exist. We also advocate that consideration should be made for fire exits when constructing buildings and markets. Development control agencies in various cities must also ensure that there are water points properly located for fire fighters to access water, and there must be need for adequate supply of hydrants and chemicals. Loss of lives and property from fire incidents must be prevented because it is preventable.