Between Saturday, November 20 and Tuesday, November 23, 2021, Port Harcourt, the capital of oil-rich Rivers State, was enmeshed with what could be described as an avalanche of fire outbreaks.
The fire incidents which came intermittently have left woes, agonies, bitterness, losses and deaths.
- Sultan, Fayemi, others for Abuja unity summit
- Filming ‘Amina’ was a different experience – Lucy Ameh
Although the outcome of the investigative panel set up by the Rivers State Government to unravel the circumstances surrounding the serial fire outbreak are still being awaited, sources privy to the fire incidents have attributed it to the activities of illegal oil bunkering otherwise known as “kpo fire”.
The first to witness the fire outbreak were residents of Isiokpo Street in the DLine axis of Port Harcourt. The fire incident which occurred on Saturday, November 20, 2021, destroyed property worth millions of naira. The fire was attributed to illegal oil bunkers who were said to be using one of the houses in the neighborhood to carry out their activities.
A resident of the area who witnessed the incident attributed the fire to a suspected inflammable substances stored in a warehouse in the neighborhood, adding that the fire torched the National Institute for Information and Technology (NIIT).
A woman whose church building was affected by the fire said the fire burnt down the entire church building and destroyed other property worth millions of naira.
Another resident, Emeka Umunna, said, “The fire was as a result of illegal oil bunkering going on within the neighbourhood. The place was used to store inflammable substances suspected to be petroleum products. I don’t know what ignited the fire, but what we saw was billows of fire going up. It was a very pathetic sight as houses were burnt down.”
Next in the Port Harcourt serial fire outbreak was in the Rumuokoro part of Obio Akpor Local Government Area of the state on Sunday, November 21, 2021 at about 4pm.
Residents said the fire started from an uncompleted three-storey behind a first generation bank’s ATM gallery off the popular East West Road as a result of storage of adulterated petroleum products in the uncompleted building.
A resident, Prince Chibundu, said the building was used to store petroleum products by oil thieves.
Chibundu said, “What caused the fire was illegal oil bunkering. The uncompleted building where the fire ignited from was used to store adulterated petroleum products by those suspected to be dealing on illegal oil bunkering.”
“This illegal business had been going on and nobody noticed it except few persons. The damage done by this terrible incident is very unprecedented.”
Another resident whose shop was burnt, Paul Eze, said he lost goods worth hundreds of thousands.
Eze said, “The fire occurred on Sunday when many of us were in our respective houses. It happened at a time when many people were relaxing over the weekend. I got to know about the incident which started around 4pm on Sunday very much late, and by the time I got to my shop everything I had in the store was burnt to ashes. I don’t know where to start from at this particular period when every household is preparing for Christmas.”
The serial fire outbreak hit residents and those doing business in the Nembe-Bonny Bille Waterfront where a jetty is located.
It was learnt that the jetty, recently reconstructed by the state government, had become notorious for illegal oil bunkering and other criminal activities.
A pregnant woman, three children—among who was a month-old baby, were said to have died in the fire, while scores sustained injuries, just as property worth millions of naira were destroyed.
Many women who deal on fish and crayfish are still counting their losses as their goods were razed by the fire.
Witnesses blamed it on illegal oil bunkering and indiscriminate storage and movement of illegal refined fuel products.
Our reporter learnt that the bodies of the pregnant woman and the three children who lost their lives in the incident were recovered as scores were feared missing and several others.
A witness said the boat that caused the fire was parked beside six other boats.
He said, “Here they use to bring fuel and diesel, even the water was covered with much fuel that any spark could have spread fire.”
A business woman in the area simply identified as Mrs Elijah said, “These boys that don’t want to be useful to themselves have just wasted the lives of people. My greatest pain is the children. A month-old baby and the mother roasted because of carelessness.
“They were offloading products from a boat and a man was smoking. I don’t know what he did, next thing we saw was fire from the boat. Since the place is already saturated with oil and various fuel products, the fire became uncontrollable.”
In the meantime, the Rivers State Government has set up a panel of investigation to unravel the circumstances surrounding the serial fire.
The Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Peter Meede, who inspected the level of damage in the incidents, said the report of an ongoing investigation would be made public.
He said, “There is the likelihood that it is petroleum products that are causing the fires. We cannot come to that conclusion now until there is a full-scale investigation. The report of the investigation will reveal the cause of the fires, as well as the remedies.”
Similarly, the Commissioner for Special Duties, Emeka Onowu, who spoke at the D/Line where the first fire incident occurred, expressed concern about the incidents and frowned at the activities of illegal oil dealers.
Onowu urged residents to assist the state government with relevant information to checkmate the activities of illegal oil dealers.
He said, “The problem we are having is that, I think the citizens do not have confidence in security agencies again. If not, most of them are scared that if they lay complaints of such nature, tomorrow somebody would sabotage them and reveal the source to them (dealers). They are scared to speak out.
“Look at this environment, look at the people living in this environment. You won’t tell me that people living in this environment do not know that something of this nature was going on here.
“Please, I want to plead with Rivers State people, government cannot do everything for you. It is not possible. No government can do that. Help us in your own little ways. Give us information. The Ministry of Special Duties is there; the Ministry of Energy is there. Even if you don’t want people to know, write quietly and send to us.
“Let me make this clear to the public, so that you will know; no state government regulates the production of petroleum. Nobody. It is only exclusive list of the president.
“If somebody can conceive this idea and can do something like this and refine, why can’t the federal government encourage these boys than importing fuel. Nobody justifies the activities of these boys. Look at what they have caused, destroying property worth billions of naira. And you are putting government in a tight corner.
“We are not the ones that kept the fuel in your compound. We (government) are not the ones that kept illegal bunkering in your community. If you had raised alarm to us, we would have taken decision before this time.”