There was yet another fire outbreak Thursday in Lagos, in what appears to be a season of fire outbreak in the state. Chaos and pandemonium ensued thursday at Waterworks Road, off Liverpool, Apapa, when two tankers fully loaded with petroleum products exploded at a loading bay belonging to Petrol-Cargo Limited. Officials of the Lagos State Emergency Agency (LASEMA), the state Fire Service, the Merchant Navy and the Nigeria Police, battled to no avail to put out the fire.
The incident happened a few days after the City Mall in Alausa, Ikeja, caught fire and a week after the MRS Tank Farm, also in Apapa, was gutted by fire. Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, while reacting to last week’s fire outbreak at the MRS Tank Farm, had called for the relocation of all tank farms from Apapa environs. Earlier this week too, pipeline explosion occurred at Arepo village, a community in neighbouring Ogun State, killing over 25 persons. Between the Christmas and New Year, a section of Jankara Market on Lagos Island had gone up in flames following the explosion that occurred at a fireworks shop in the market. In almost all the cases, the rage of the fire had left devastating damage with people killed and property running into millions of naira destroyed.
While the fire raged, the greater concern yesterday shifted from salvaging property to saving schoolchildren in a nearby United Primary School, which is located besides the loading bay. The school was shut, and the children immediately evacuated from the premises. One of the teachers in the school, Mrs. Stella Ezeobi, said she was in class when she felt the ground shook violently because of the explosion that followed the fire outbreak: "The school was in session and then suddenly, we heard a loud booming sound. We rushed outside and it was then we saw thick billows of smoke.
"We were then asked to maintain calm among the students which we did. In fact, we were still in the school premises before the emergency team came in and helped us evacuate our students to safety," she recalls.
However, despite efforts by the rescue teams and their teachers to escort the schoolchildren out of the premises safely, some of them who were scared by the flames were seen jumping into the canal to escape being hurt. Only the quick intervention of the rescue team saved the re-enactment of the Isolo canal tragedy 11 years ago in which over 600 children perished when they rushed into the canal, while fleeing from exploding bombs at the Ikeja Military Cantonment.
While maintaining that they adhered to all safety rules, the owner of the loading bay, Mr. Emmanuel Eze, who spoke through his father, Chief Ikechukwu Eze, said no life was lost. He said: "We have fleets of trucks in the bay and when we load products at the tank farm, the tankers park at the bay pending when they will go to distribute the product.
"What happened was that one of the tanker drivers was supposed to go and distribute the product but unfortunately his truck refused to start and instead of calling an auto-rewire, he decided to do it himself.
"He tried to start the truck manually but he did not know that the fuel pump was leaking. So when he started it, it caught fire and entered the fuel pump and then into the vehicle tank resulting in an outburst of fire.
"The main thing started when the fire entered the product tank but we tried everything possible to contain and restrict it to the compound, an effort that proved successful."
Eze commended the promptness of the state fire service, adding that over N40 million, being the cost of the product and the two tankers, were lost to the inferno. Confirming the incident, a senior LASEMA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said investigations are ongoing to ascertain the true cause of the fire.
According to him, evidence on ground did not support the owner’s account of what led to the fire. He said: "When we received the distress call, we quickly moved in with other stakeholders and what we found on ground suggests that they were loading fuel from one tanker to another.
"Investigations are ongoing because we saw a pumping machine on the ground between both tankers and it could have been what triggered the fire."
Another marketer who preferred to be anonymous, commented, "We cannot pretend that all of these troubles of fire every now and then are because the nation is still importing petroleum products. If the refineries are working at installed capacity or there are more refineries in the country, all these accidents would either be minimised or avoided completely."
He asked if the relevant authorities dutifully check and ascertain the safety regulations in the various loading bays across the country, adding, "As long as we compromise on the safety standards, we shall continue to experience these needless hazards."