KPLC to pay Sh500 million for Nakumatt fire tragedy

By Kamau Muthoni | Apr 24, 2024


Nakumatt Downtown Supermarket fire tragedy along Kenyatta Avenue Nairobi January 2009. [File, Standard]

Kenya Power Company (KPLC) will pay the owner of a building that housed Nakumatt Downtown supermarket more than Sh500 million for the loss incurred after the 2009 fire tragedy.

Justice Josephine Mong’are found that Woolworths Limited had made a case against KPLC for the January 28, 2009 fire that killed at least 30 people.

The Judge dismissed the claims against Nakumatt Limited and its director Atulkumar Shah.

Poor safety plans to blame for 2009 Nakumatt inferno that took 30 lives

Justice Mong'are ruled that the Nakumatt had nothing to do with the fire.

The Judge found that first Woolworths had breached its lease agreement with Nakumatt as it had not insured the building for 2009.

At the same time, she observed that Nakumatt’s generator was intact and there was no evidence to show that flammable items sold by the supermarket either leaked or exploded.

“I opine that in as much as the 1st Defendant was in breach of Clauses 3(20) and 4(2) of the lease agreement between it and the 1st Defendant dated June 12, 1995, no evidence has been adduced to the effect that the LPG cylinders, paint thinners, spirit and or generator that it kept in the suit property were the cause of the fire outbreak,” said Justice Mong’are.

On the other hand, the judge found that KPLC was culpable owing to its contradictory account on what transpired.

She said that the fire was as a result of errors made in the process of repairing a fault at a transformer located at Nation Centre.

In the case, KPLC asserted that the power outage and subsequent repairs could not have triggered the fire as the other surrounding buildings did not catch fire nor was the transformer destroyed or affected.

However, the technician who was repairing the transformer admitted that he switched off the transformer to prevent further spread of the fire.

The Judge observed that fire broke out in Nakumatt immediately power was reconnected.

“In view of the foregoing and the testimony rendered before this court and in the absence of any other evidence to the contrary, I am persuaded that there is prima facie evidence before this Court to suggest that the 2nd Defendant is solely to blame for the fire outbreak at the suit property,” she said.

The finding comes after an inquest failed to nail anyone for the fire.

A magistrate’s court however found that the Nakumatt fire tragedy did not have a human hand, but several critical fire protection and fighting blunders made a dire situation worse.

The fame of the once giant retailer, whose symbol was an elephant, has over time fizzled out in the memories of Kenyans who were largely its customers, but the question on who caused the fire that razed down Nakumatt Downtown supermarket on January 28, 2009, remained answered.

For eight years, the court inquired from 31 witnesses on the circumstances leading to the deaths, including an unborn child and its mother, who were burnt beyond recognition.

At the end of the inquest, Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi singled out no one to bear the wrath of the law for the deaths.

“I find there is no evidence to suggest this fire was deliberately lit… I find that the fire was accidental and not deliberate. No offense has been shown to have been committed by a person known or unknown in the circumstances of this case in relation to the deaths that occurred at the supermarket,” ruled Andayi.

The Chief Magistrate ruled out electric power surge as the cause of the fire. Although some of the witnesses who were Nakumatt’s former employees testified that the power kept going on and off, the court was of the view that there was a smooth change-over from the diesel generator to the then KPLC service.

The building known as Woolworths was owned by a Mr Patel. Nakumatt had leased the building for 20 years from 1995. The branch had three access points, two on Kimathi street and one on Kimathi lane, which was also the receiving area.

Nakumatt was on ground and first floor of the building.

The inquiry revealed that at the location of the generator, which was suspected to be the culprit, gas cylinders that had been placed on the staircase and inadequate water nearby and from Nairobi county government, as well as missing smoke alarm system, worsened the situation.

Andayi was of the view that based on testimonies by 31 witnesses,  the generator’s room was inside the building. According to him, if it had been installed outside, the disaster could not have happened, and the number of casualties would have been less.

Following this observation, he recommended that buildings should not have power generators within and should not be placed near inflammable items.

The intensity of the fire overwhelmed those who were trying to put it out.

This situation led to darkness, heat, and confusion inside the supermarket, with people trying to escape.

There was a staircase from the ground to the first floor. In case of an emergency requiring evacuation, the people on the first floor would be evacuated through the staircase to the access on Kimathi lane.

The stairs leading from the upper floor to the ground floor were inaccessible as they were engulfed in the fire exacerbated by the presence of gas cylinders that were stored there.

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