Every year, Nigerian government and people continue to record high loses as a result of fire disasters. Reacting to the worrisome statistics on fire outbreak in the country, experts express concerns over the development and call on stakeholders to pay more attention to it, writes NGOZI NWANKWO

Every year, critical sectors of the nation’s economy and infrastructure are consumed by fire leaving in their trail huge economic loses to individuals and the nation at large. About 80 percent of the lose that emanates from fire outbreak is said to occur in residential apartments. Apart from several airborne diseases that come with dry and windy period, it is also characterised by wild fire outbreaks. Thus, more lives and property are usually lost to inferno during harmattan period than in any other season. The harmattan danger usually runs from the months of October to March; however, it may vary due to local conditions. Fire outbreaks, especially bush fires, are more likely to spread and cause damage on days when the weather is very dry and windy which are characteristics of the harmattan season in the country. As a result of this extreme weather condition, caution is required during the period to reduce the risk that result in killing persons, damaging and destroying properties and environment. While Nigerians already have the problem of insecurity to contend with, the uprising of other natural disasters also threatens lives and property of the citizens ranging from floods and fire outbreak which have become major source of concern. Year 2012 alone, the number of razed buildings and property by fire are incalculable, the highest ever recorded so far. According to Mr. Chike Njoku, the command’s Public Relations Office, PRO, of Federal Fire Service, Lagos State Command hinted that in December alone, states recorded 27 incidents of fire outbreaks, the highest in one month during the year within the Lagos metropolis. “Many people were so carefree about their safety during the yuletide,” Njoku said. He also attributed the causes of the fire, included fireworks, candle light, storage of petroleum product wrongly, electricity spark and other human carelessness. This was blamed on fuel scarcity experienced during the year. “We attended to more fire incidents in 2012 than the previous year, particularly toward the end of the year. The fire incidents happened in private homes, public buildings, warehouses, sawmills and fuel tankers,” he said. The fire explosion that rocked the heart of Lagos on Boxing Day killing one person and destroying over a dozen houses was heartbreaking. The following day, news broke that part of the country home of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was gutted by fire. The same day, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria got burnt. Since then, more fire disasters have occurred. For instances, fire outbreak
Most of the fire outbreaks in Nigeria are caused by human negligence. There are some little habits that could spark fire at homes or offices. Some people have the habit of leaving their offices without unplugging all the electrical appliances
Fire outbreak
happened at Ogun State Government Secretariat, Abeokuta; INEC office in Abuja; Feleye Market, Ibadan; NNPC Mega Station; NTA station Abakiliki in Ebonyi State destroying media equipment worth over five million naira, Bashorun- Akobo area, Ibadan; Oko- Baba Shanties, Lagos; the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oyo State; the Ogbomoso tanker fire, and most recently the Arepo explosion that killed scores of petrol pipeline vandals. Beyond doubt, this fire disaster is worrisome because of its adverse effect it has on human and economic development. The cost and pain of the of fire incidents is generally unbearable. It leads to pains and death of victims, money and materials, and damage to equipment and structures. The causes these disasters are both natural disaster and man made. The statistics for the year ended 2012 coming from various states in the federation has depicted the socio- economic lose which is quite alarming. In Rivers State alone, the state government has announced that 73 persons suffered different degrees of injuries and that at least 230 persons lost their lives in 222 fire incidents in the state. Another statement from the Oyo State Fire Service Department indicated that about N1 billion worth of property were destroyed and a total of 38 people were killed in 607 fire incidents across the State last year. While Bauchi acting director, Babayo Umar Misau, hinted that 81 lives were lost in Bauchi fire disaster that occurred in different part of Bauchi. He also added that 296 calls received in the year under review properties worth over N209million destroyed. In just the first two weeks of 2013, the Department has received 46 distress calls over fire disasters in different parts of the state in which 3 persons were killed. It is amazing that upon all these disasters, Nigerians have not cultivated the culture of safety, but have swallowed by greater level of negligence which is termed the number one cause of the outbreak in the menu of the causes. On the other hands, the agencies saddled with the safety of live and property seem not to be
prepared to prevent the ugly incidents, rather prefer firefighting. Most of the fire outbreaks in Nigeria are caused by human negligence. There are some little habits that could spark fire at homes or offices. Some people have the habit of leaving their offices without unplugging all the electrical appliances which are capable of sparking off in an event of fluctuation in of electric current. At home, families are not taking precautionary measures to reduce the risk of fire outbreaks. The use of matches and candles are still found within the reach of children despite repeated warnings of the Federal Fire Service Commission about the danger associated with them. In many homes today, people still store explosive devices such as fuel at home carelessly. According to Engr. A. E. Okeke
(Comptroller) Policy Inspectorate & Regulatory Departmen, Federal Fire Service Headquarters, Abuja, with fire fighters alone, it will be difficult to combat the effect. He therefore urged the public to imbibe the safety consciousness. For instance, extension cords should not be placed under rugs or looped over nails or tacked to walls; sufficient space should be provided around heat- generating home appliances; electrical outlets or extension cords should not be overloaded; always make sure the stove top is clean as residue grease can catch fire. Flammable liquids should not be stored in any other thing other than labeled, tightly sealed metal or plastic containers and many others. Curbing the menace of hamattan fire involves everyone from the individual to fire authorities at the community or local government levels, up to the state and federal levels. All of which must get involved in a mix of actions strategies to minimize the potential for hamattan fire to affect lives, property and the environment. Fire prevention and preparedness is more than just firefighting and hazard reduction, although these are important elements. It involves a risk planning process which includes identifying assets within a community at risk of hamattan fires, assessing that risk and developing specific strategies to deal with those risks. Experts have called for the need for government to strengthen and enforce strictly all existing laws on safety with a view to achieving a safer society. Similarly, those who breach laws should be brought to book and punished accordingly.