By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South-West
WITHIN a space of 24 hours, two mysterious fire outbreaks caused three deaths, damage worth millions of Naira, pain and sorrow in Akure, Ondo State capital.
Two siblings were burnt in their residence located at the Edo Lodge, Akure in one of the incidents.
Itunu Omolere, 2, and Damilare Omolere, 4, had been left in the care of their 11-year-old sister while their parents went out that ill-fated night.
In the second incident, one of the leaders of traders in town, Elizabeth Aina, 52, and a mother of five, whose shop was burnt alongside those of others in a mysterious fire, died few days after the sad occurrence of heart attack.
Many other victims are lying critically ill in hospital out of shock and high blood pressure following the destruction of their source of livelihood.
Over 100 lock-up shops were said to have been razed in the fire disaster and goods worth millions gone.
The midnight fire reportedly destroyed motorcycles, computers, photocopier machines, plastic ID card making machines, generating sets and stationery items.
Also not spared were a Customary Court, the rate office and Akure museum office.
A representative of affected traders, Pastor Bakare Olabisi, put the number of victims at 300.
Bakare pointed out that the traders have dependants, including children and aged ones, to cater for and passionately appealed for assistance from government.
The husband of Elizabeth, Jacob Aina, who confirmed the death of the mother of his children, said she owned two of the shops razed by the fire.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the fire that killed the children started at about 7pm and could not be put out because the state Fire Service complained of lack of water and money to fuel their vehicles to move the scene of the fire, about 200 metres away.
An eyewitness said, “Neighbours who rushed to the state Fire Service nearby to report the incident were shocked when they were informed that there was no water and fuel to move their fire fighting vehicles to the scene of fire, which was about 200 metres away”.
Same excuse was said to have been given by officials of the state Fire Service after the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi, who noticed the fire at the lock- up shops located close to his palace, put a call to them.
A neighbour said the father of the deceased kids had travelled out of town while their mother, Blessing, was also not around when the kids were roasted in the fire.
Unknown that death was lurking around, their sister, who was to look after them, equally left them alone in the house only to return later to find the house on fire.
Sources said the fire may have been caused by a candle that was left on the table with the toddlers by their sister before she left the house.
The two fire incidents drew the ire of youths in Akure who protested the inefficiency of the state Fire Service.
Also, the state House of Assembly summoned the management of the Fire Service to explain the allegation of inefficiency by members of the public.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu visited the scene of the razed lock-up shops and promised assistance to the victims.
Youths under the auspices of Creative Gangs took to the streets, carrying placards and condemning the inefficiency of the state Fire Service.
They alleged that the two fire disasters could have been curtailed if not for the inefficiency.
The youths moved from the office of the Fire Brigade in Alagbaka to the Governor’s Office, calling government insensitive to fire incidents that have claimed lives and property in Ondo.
Led by Mrs Tosin King and Mr Ayokunle Ajisafe, they said that the deaths of Itunu and Damilare were a cause for concern among residents of the state.
Some of the placards carried by the aggrieved youths read, ‘We want a reformed Fire Service’, ‘No to government insensitivity’, and ‘We want a working government’.
Ajisafe said they wanted to bring the consciousness of government to the parlous state of affairs at the state Fire Service.
According to him, several lives would have been saved if the Fire Service was functioning.
“We know we cannot bring the dead back but we don’t want to have a repeat of this kind of incident. Nobody prays for this, but lives are important to us.
“It has become a refrain that there is no water, no fuel by the Fire Service whenever there is a fire incident. It is high time they called the head of the organization to order.
“We are tired of losing lives in fire incidents. It is the Omoleres today; it could be anybody’s children tomorrow.”
Governor Akeredolu, who went round the burnt market alongside the Deji, assured the market men and women of security of lives and property.
He promised that his administration would look into the shortcomings of fire fighters in Ondo with a view to addressing them for effective and timely response to fire incidents.
On his part, Oba Aladelusi appealed to the state government to be timely with the assistance and cautioned victims against anything that could impair their health.
He assured the victims that government would do its best to ensure that their losses were compensated.
The monarch also called for a lasting solution to the deplorable condition of the state Fire Service that could not rescue the situation owing to non-operational vehicles.
Senator Tayo Alasoadura has, in the meantime, donated N1m while a House of Representatives member, Afe Olowookere, donated N500, 000 to the victims of the fire incident at the lock – up shops.
In a related development, findings at the state Fire Service showed that lack of budgetary allocation was a major constraint.
An official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said, “Though there was a borehole at the Fire Service compound, there was no means to power the borehole”.
According to him, the Fire Service was established in 1980 by the first civilian governor of Ondo, the late Adekunle Ajasin, but some 38 years after, there was no facelift or upgrading of the station.
“We do not have the equipment to quench fire, we don’t have fire protective soothing, sheer cutter, as well as provision of the requisite fire-fighting equipment including fire proof garments, hoists and other related equipment. Even the fire engines we are using are supposed to be a back-up”, he added.
It was gathered that the immediate past government in the state awarded about N150million contract to a politician to purchase three modern fire-fighting trucks for the Fire Service but the fire-fighting trucks have since broken down.
The official said the three fire fighters were substandard and did not work for two months before they developed faults.
“The contractor who supplied the vehicles was alerted and agreed to repair the faulty fire-fighting vehicles but that was the last time we heard from him.
“The only vehicle that is working in this compound was purchased in 1990 and the vehicle is not even in good order.
“The last recruitment for the staff in the Fire Service was conducted in 1987 and what we usually have here is replacement of staff and not recruitment. Staff members are not even motivated, so how do we perform when we are not magicians?”
He said the Fire Service could boast of only one truck to serve the whole of Akure metropolis and three other local government areas, while he noted that two others donated by NDDC were being used as back-up.