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JKIA fire could have been contained if response team had acted promptly, say witnesses

Police officers seal a section of JKIA razed by an inferno on Wednesday.  The airport emergency unit have been accused of slow response to the fire.  [PHOTO: WILBERFORCE OKWIRI/STANDARD]

By PAUL WAFULA and    EMMANUEL WERE

NAIROBI; KENYA: The devastating damage to a section of the country’s biggest airport by a fire witnesses said spread fast because of poor response, put the Kenya Airport Authority’s emergency response on the spot.

KAA fire department has at least 5 trucks on standby, according to the firefighter interviewed at the scene by The Standard, which is in line with the international standards.

However, there were questions raised on the response to the fire by the KAA firefighters, ideally the first line of emergency response.

Sources told The Standard when news of the fire broke out, the fire department underestimated the magnitude of the fire. Initially, there was a truck and the first people to tackle the fire used extinguishers to contain the fire.

However, the department was so overwhelmed by the ferocity of the fire that private firefighting engines and trucks which supply water were called in to help.

 Flammable items

A firefighter who was in the early morning battle to contain the fire said the fire was spreading too fast and by the time they contained it, most of the shops were damaged in a similar pattern and it was not immediately possible to tell where the fire started. 

Another firefighter, who works with the KAA’s fire department, said the building was easily engulfed because of the flammable items, which fed the fire as it snaked its way in the building.

“The fire quickly spread in the lounge because the carpets easily catch fire. These carpets are dangerous,” said the fireman speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press. The carpets lined the floors in some of the offices and also along some of the corridors leading to the terminal.

There were no deaths reported although Kenya Airways said at least two people were rushed to hospital be treated for smoke inhalation.

The fire left charred desks, computers, ceiling boards and floor tiles in its wake. It was not certain whether passengers had lost their baggage.

Some restaurants, shops and offices were also burnt to the ground. The National Bank of Kenya’s branch at the airport was completely destroyed by the fire. Luckily for some banks, ATMs just outside the lounge were left intact. “This is the first time we have had to fight a fire of this magnitude,” said the firefighter.

Fire drills

He continued: “It is the standard procedure to do fire evacuation drills but we have never handled anything like this.”

Because of the engines deployed to fight the fire, cargo planes could not take off until late Thursday afternoon. The cargo centre is about half a kilometer from the international arrivals lounge and was not affected by the inferno.

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