Sunday, February 1

Kenya burning

Last night, over 110 people died in a fire near the town of Molo, northwest of Nairobi. A truck carrying fuel had overturned on the highway, and hundreds of people had gathered to collect free gasoline, when something - either a dropped cigarette or an intentional spark - ignited the blaze. This comes a few days after the downtown Nairobi branch of Kenya's main supermarket chain burned down. The first thing to say is that these are regrettable tragedies. But it's also clear that the capacity to respond to fires here, as in other parts of Africa I'm sure, is low, to say the least.

Anyone who's worked downtown in an American city knows that the wail of fire engine or ambulance sirens is a regular feature of the soundscape. In Nairobi, not so much. And when I do see a fire engine, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Especially considering how much time I've spent stuck in traffic right outside the fire station. It was a bit painful to watch the firemen and onlookers struggle to direct what hoses they had at the supermarket fire - one at least, sprung a leak.

I know that fire-response capacity is at least on the radar in terms of foreign assistance. But it seems like this might be an area that could use some more attention.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

It's like last year, in Diani, when that entire shopping complex right near the hotel burned down. There was an orange glow in the sky around the hotel, but we didn't realize how bad it was until we left for dinner, and our taxi tried to drive right past it—the entire site was up in flames, they were spreading out onto the street, and the fire seemed to be spreading to the adjacent gas station. No one seemed to be doing much but watching. We of course turned around and headed back to the hotel.

What was frightening was not just the obvious incapacity to fight the fire, but also the apparent nonchalance about it—none of the management at the hotel, which was just down the street, seemed all that worried, even as embers started floating over the thatched roofs of the buildings. Maybe the wind was too strong, which eventually put the fire out without it spreading elsewhere, but on a windy strip like Diani, where most building have grass roofs, it seems like a fire like that could easily level the entire town.