It all began like a joke. A reporter came into the newsroom around 7p.m saying he could smell a cable burning inside the building. The security guards ran inside and tried to locate where the smell was coming from. They scoured the two upper floors and found nothing.
Electricity supply to the two floors was cut off. But the burning smell continued.
Thirty minutes after, a glow was sighted by the window of the third floor from the outside.
It was then it became clear what was happening. It was fire ravaging the floor.
There was stampede as shards of glass started flying out of the windows and frantic steps marched upstairs, to deal with the fire.
It was an impossible mission. The office door was locked. But the staff were undeterred as the door, after much effort was smashed open.
But what greeted the staff was not what they bargained for. It was not a small fire, it was a
smoldering one with great intensity and its surging force pushed the small party back on a hasty retreat.
This was not a fire that could be put off by pails of water. As it ravaged the floor, it needed the attention of the professionals.
There was stampede all over the premises as staff picked one item or the other and made for the ground floor, awaiting the firemen.
Management, editors and staff of TheNEWS, and its sister publication, P.M. NEWS will never forget Wednesday, 21 November, 2012. Infact, majority of them are yet to recover from the shock which resulted from the fire which razed the third floor of its corporate headquarters on 27 Acme Road, Agidingbi, Lagos, Southwest Nigeria.
The Group Senior Editor, Babajide Kolade-Otitoju, Production Editor, Mr. Akin Obasa, Deputy Editor, Lanre Babalola and others were trapped at the back of the building and had to scale the fence to escape to the nearby building.
“When we could not escape through the front of the building because of flying glass, we had to scale the fence and jump into the next building beside us,” recalled Tunde Adekeye, Assistant Production Editor.
Everyone in the building finally got evacuated at exactly 8.10p.m.
Also giving an account of the incident, Kolade-Otitoju, speculated that the fire could have resulted from power surge from one of the offices on the third floor.
“One of the cables started burning as a result of power surge and at that time, it was very minimal,” he said. According to him, the staff continued to work oblivious of the fact that the building was on fire.
“It was when I came out and saw that the fire was serious that we ran back into the newsroom and asked the people to leave and within minutes, the fire had spread and had become fierce.
“The floor is like one big hall partitioned into small offices and the stuff used to partition the offices were combustible. This aided the spread of the fire.
“Within 30 minutes, half of that third floor had been razed,” he noted, adding that they all started calling the office of the fire service, friends and concerned Nigerians to come to their aid.
‘‘We put pressure on the fire fighters because we have seen entire buildings razed completely as a result of poor response from the fire service. We didn’t want our case to be like that.”
He commended the fire fighters saying they came with three vehicles in quick succession and this gave the staff assurance that the fire would be defeated.
Deputy Editor, Mr. Lanre Babalola, however described the response of the fire fighters as disappointing, saying “if they had arrived early, the fire would not have spread beyond just one office on the third floor. But I commend them for their fighting spirit because when they finally came, they put in their best and succeeded in preventing the fire from spreading to other floors. They displayed professionalism, but they need to improve on their response time to fire incidents,” he said.
The Administration Manager, Mr. Rafiu Salau, said the loss cannot be quantified now, but noted that the third floor would have to be rebuilt.
He said as at the time he was called, the damage had been done. “At the time I came, it was beyond anybody, but the firemen really did a good job, even though they did not get to this place early enough,” he said.
By the time the fire was put off, everything on the floor, books, documents, office equipment, the ceiling, the roof were all gone, eaten up by the remorseless fire.
Today, sympathisers, friends and associates visited the corporate office of Independent Communications Network Limited, ICNL, Publishers of TheNews/P.M.NEWS on Acme Road, Ogba to commiserate with the management over the fire.
Among the early callers to the office were the Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Olutoyin Ayinde; President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Gbenga Adefaye; General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu; and Colonel Tony Nyiam (retd). Chairman, Ifako-Ijaiye Local Government Area of Lagos State, Apostle Oloruntoba Oke, also visited the corporate office of the organisation today to commisserate with the management over the incident.
Oke who was received by the Executive Editor of the company, Mr. Kunle Ajibade; Senior Editor Babajide Kolade-Otitoju and other management staff, described the incident as unfortunate and thanked God that the building was saved.
“We thank God that no life was lost and that the fire fighters were able to put out the fire before it spread to other parts of the building,” he said. Apostle Oke described P.M.NEWS as the voice of the voiceless and called on Nigerians to ensure its survival.
Commenting on the late arrival of fire fighters to the scene yesterday, Oke appealed to the officials to always rise to the occasion when they are needed. “I wonder why the fire fighters are always late when there is an emergency. I learnt that they have the best of fire fighting equipment in the country, so why can’t they perform,” he asked.
The chairman was accompanied on the visit by members of the local government executive, including the Secretary to the local government, Dr. Olayemi Oke-Osayintolu, Chief of Staff, Yinka Thomas, Supervisory Councillor for Works, Femi Babayemi, Senior Special Adviser, Special Duties and Tunde Jokotoye.
Among the callers today were veteran journalists, Mr. Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Muhammed and Mr. Soji Akinrinade.