Fatal Blaze Destroys Housing Group in Kakuma
Extreme dust storms fed the blazing flames that erupted from a house in Kakuma One.
2010-11 Winter Quarterly Issue
On January 5, 2011, blazing flames enveloped 32 residential blocks in Kakuma and resulted in six persons being admitted to IRC Hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning. A woman from Kakuma Two died when knocked down by a motor bike, and she was in the hospital mortuary when KANERE visited at 3pm that afternoon to investigate the fire incident. “This is very bad; I have never seen such a fire in Kakuma since working here now for two years,” said a national clinical officer speaking with KANERE.
The fire started around noon and quickly spread from one house to seven houses in 15 minutes. It continued at uncontrollable speeds due to the furious winds. “I came to this scene following the screams of ‘Help! Fire!’ We started throwing soil and water to put it off, though the flames were jumping up into the sky,” said a neighbor.
Screams for help filled the air, and while new rescue efforts arrived the fire gathered strength and captured several more houses that were clustered nearby in the congested neighborhood. By 12:20pm, about 20 houses were blazing with little hopes of rescue.
Soon news of the fire reached the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), UNHCR, and the G4S Security Group. All arrived late at the scene, and some commented that little help was offered. But victims of the fire greatly appreciated assistance from the LWF Water Department for releasing the water that almost extinguished the fire immediately after they were informed. “We could not manage to put out the fire, but we had plenty of water flowing over four hours past the normal circumstances,” said one witness. [Typically, the water flow from public taps in Kakuma is rationed and water does not flow after an appointed time.]
At approximately 12:40pm two men and three women were discovered lying unconscious on the ground, poisoned by the monoxide-filled smoke of the burning houses and properties which had been pouring forth since the start of the fire. They were immediately taken to the hospital. Some aid agency staff members visited the scene and were shocked to find everything burnt down to ashes. The Camp Planning Agent from the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) visited the site and said that the fire was caused by over-congestion in the housing group.
At 12:50pm, seven people were transported to the IRC Hospital by ambulance and the fire was almost contained. At that point, it had already consumed property worth hundreds of thousands of Kenya shillings. By 1:15pm, the fire had destroyed everything in its path and the neighborhood houses had been reduced to ashes. Only a few muddy walls could be seen standing naked while the fire continued smoldering.
At 3pm, a KANERE journalist visited the hospital where the patients were found in the male ward. The hospital was crowded with people crying and others fighting for their lives. Pressure was high due to the lack of an oxygen facility to treat patients suffering from smoke inhalation, and one ward was being shared for both male and the female patients.
In an interview, an IRC clinical officer said that she was shocked at the incident. “I have never seen such troubles during my work stay at Kakuma for two years now,” she stated.
Some incentive staffs were also shocked and exhausted by the incident. “We have been overworked this afternoon. I never got rest until 3:40pm,” said one Somali incentive staff at the male ward.
Despite the efforts put forth by community leaders from the affected blocks to record the victims’ grievances, it was reported that the shelter material assistance and food rations provided for victims were not entirely sufficient. Victims of the fire received some plastic-sheet roofing materials and a few food items, but were not given any compensation as they had expected. “They provided minor assistance [in the form] of fire wood pieces, tents, 2kg maize flour, but no houses have been built yet while victims are waited to be sheltered from the burning sun and cold nights,” said a Somali leader in an interview at the Somali Administration Office, Kakuma One.