Daring Dante’s Inferno: Spilt fuel fires don’t scare Africa

Fuel tanker tragedies in Africa take a heavy toll on life, but we are not in a hurry to learn from them.

A loaded fuel tanker overturns or runs into something, oil spills, people armed with buckets, sufurias, jerrycans and all manner of receptacles rush to loot the fuel, a small trigger, and boom! Charred bodies.

Before you can shout “fire”, a nation is thrown into mourning.

This year alone, three fuel tragedies have been reported across East Africa. Hundreds have died in all.

What’s more surprising, however, is how we never seem to learn from the tragedies.

We revisit some of the worst fuel tanker fire tragedies that hit East Africa and Africa at large.  

Kenya

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January 31, 2009: An oil tanker exploded on the Nakuru-Eldoret highway, killing 130 people. Ninety-one people perished at the scene.

At least 200 others were injured in the Sachangwan fuel tragedy and left with serious burn wounds.

Sachangwan fuel tanker tragedy survivors and families of the victims go through names of those who perished and were buried in a mass grave in Molo Constituency during the eighth anniversary. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Reports say the fire may have been started deliberately by frustrated locals who were angry at the police for being blocked from scrambling for free fuel.

The media reports suggested that a lit cigarette was used to cause the fire, but there was no confirmation of the claim from the relevant authorities.

In an interview, then Rift Valley Police commissioner Hassan Noor Hassan said: "The allegation is that somebody got annoyed with the way they were being chased from the scene by security personnel, and so they lit the fire."

September 2011: As many as 120 people were burned to death when a pipeline burst into flames in Nairobi’s Sinai slums. They were trying to siphon fuel. More than 100 were admitted to hospital.

Tanzania

Sixty-four people die, more than 70 others injured in Sunday's Tanzania fuel tanker tragedy.
August 10, 2019: A cloud of darkness would loom over Tanzania on Saturday, around 8.30am in the busy Morogoro town.

A fuel tanker laden with petrol and diesel headed from Dar es Salaam to Mafinga overturned.

The driver tried to avoid hitting a boda boda rider, before hitting a tree and plunging into the busy street.

History would repeat itself as people rushed to the overturned tanker to steal the fuel that was spilling over. Horror and death were looming.

The tanker exploded into a fireball, killing 64 people and injuring more than 70 others, who are still in hospital.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli declared three days of mourning and pleaded with citizens to stop risking their lives by stealing petrol.

The 2019 case was not the first. The worst one yet occurred in Mbeya in 2002, in which 40 people died and 100 were injured when an oil tanker overturned.

The Mbeya region had witnessed a number of similar road mishaps, including collisions between oil tankers and other vehicles.

Uganda

19 people died when a fuel truck barrelled into other vehicles in western Uganda.
August 2019: Barely a week after the Tanzania inferno, 19 people died when a fuel truck barrelled into other vehicles in western Uganda and exploded on Sunday evening at Kyambura trading centre.

According to Regional Police Spokesman Martial Tumusiime, the fuel truck hit three other vehicles, leading to multiple explosions that also burned 25 small shops.

Fuel tanker explosions and deaths were not uncommon in the Pearl of Africa nation.

In 2002, some 70 people were killed when an oil truck rammed into a bus in Rutoto, less than 50 kilometres from Kyambura.

And, in 2013, some 33 people died in an explosion after a fuel truck overturned, many having rushed to the scene to tap fuel.

Nigeria

July 2019: Forty-five people were killed after a crashed fuel tanker exploded in Benue State in northern Nigeria.

According to eyewitnesses, the driver of the tanker lost control after trying to dodge a pothole.

Benue State in northern Nigeria fuel tanker tragedy that killed 45.
It was reported that the tanker caught fire after an exhaust pipe from a passing bus scraped and generated sparks that ignited the fuel.

Despite warnings from security personnel to stay away from the vehicle, many were caught up in the explosion.

It was not the only tragedy to hit oil-rich Nigeria.

October 2018:  Sixty people were killed when a spill at an oil pipeline caused a fire in south-east Nigeria.

December 2006: A vandalised oil pipeline exploded in Lagos. Up to 500 people may have been killed.

May 2006: An oil pipeline punctured by thieves exploded and killed 150 people at the Atlas Creek Island in Lagos State.

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Fuel Tanker tragediesSachangwan fuel tragedyTanzania fuel tragedyNigeria fuel tragedy