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Thursday, September 22, 2011

AND THE FIRE MONSTER CALLED ON US.

It was a Saturday like any other. I left home early in the morning. Lagos was as busy as usual on a Saturday; canopies were being erected for parties. Luxury cars with ribbons filled the streets carrying hopefuls going to tie the knot. One could perceive the aroma of rice and other delicacies we use for parties everywhere. I got home in the afternoon. I was spent. I walked into my street, albeit some people call it an estate. I said hello to the security man as was my custom. I went to one of the shops on the street or estate if you will. (Things here are very expensive. I do not know if it is that, they think people here pluck money from trees. Biscuits sold five naira outside are sold for fifteen naira in here and the list goes on.) I bought what I wanted. (Recharge card, same everywhere. Thank God!) I got home, climbed the stairs, and entered my room. The sleep that had eluded me the past few days came calling for attention. I pulled my shirt, and then I heard it. ‘Fire! Fire!’ I felt the sleep was playing with my brain somehow. My cousin dashed into the room. ‘The estate is on fire.’ I ran to my window, which was overlooking the street, and saw neighbours, carrying their things out, those that had cars were driving out. Where would they have driven? I ponder now; the other entrance into the two streets called an estate is barred. I ran out, dialling the Lagos state fire service number I had, it was not going. I ran up the stairs to the boys’ quarter, and then I saw the smoke. The clouds were dark and angry. We ran out the house gate, I gave the fire service number to others to try finally it went through. I ran to the street gate. The people that had shops in the row were parking their goods out. The frenzy was amazing. I helped those I could help. I calculated it in my head; this fire would have to burn over twenty houses before it gets to mine. It took thirty minutes before the fire service got to an estate that was beside the main road safety corporation in the state. People, were crying, over their goods and properties. I stood at a corner helpless. I knew I had to pitch in somehow, instead of waiting for the fire in my house (remember Titanic)There, I discovered that the fire started from the maxi foam company in front of the estate and that the man with the auto shop who had new cars in, the whole cars burnt, the engines were toast. The fire truck came into the street, a small fire truck. We had to break the wall so it, could pass safely to the factory. It could not pass a gutter, so we took the woods that served as a bridge into each shop and lay before it. You should have been there when we broke the walls down; these walls had been standing since I was a babe. The firefighters, took the pipe through the broken wall, the building facing the wall was already burning it was put out. Some people were trapped inside. A courageous young man scaled the building and used his might to pull out the protector in the veranda. Funny thing, the people did not come down first, they threw down their goods and belongings first. I called their attention that they could move forward into the street and pass it through one of the shop directly to the burning factory but they paid me no attention. Alas, the pipes were too short. The firefighters were just three so we lent them a hand. (How they could send just three firefighters with a small fire truck to put off a fire that had been raging for over an hour in a foam factory still makes no sense to me.) We ran, grabbed the pipes and took one end through the window, finally. There was a church in the compound at the end of the factory. There, we cleared the church; the band equipments etc, we took to safety. Now, we faced the fire monster directly. There was still a wall but there was a small building close to the factory, the men tried climbing, the roof was made of zinc and it was as old as the building. It gave way and they nearly fell to the ground. I looked there was a building attached to it but higher (the church) and its roof was aluminium. I shouted to the firefighters to wet themselves (their clothes were made of inflammable material) and get on the aluminium roof again no one listened. Ok, there is a leister generator climb on it and pour the water directly in, deaf ears. People, kept trying to drag me out. You are a young girl what are you doing here? You are the only girl here, go and join the others outside. I looked round, most of the men, had their phones out, videoing but not helping. I overheard one saying. ‘This is naija abeg; I can’t kill myself for another man’s thing.’ The water was being wasted. We moved the cars in the compound out. A carpenter volunteered to climb, so did others. One of the firefighters approached me and told me to tell my people to come down. In my mind, I was like if you cannot do it let others do. We yelled they came down. We prayed for the rain to come but it fled us that day, it went on a journey like Baal in the Old Testament. Then, we prayed to God for help in any form. The fire kept getting bigger. There where chemicals in the factory obviously but the water they came with was plain water. How can plain water quench chemicals? A man came to ask me, with his phone (I felt like slapping the phone out of his hands.) ‘Young woman, is this your father’s company? ‘No, was the answer I could give. Someone called me away. I begged the firefighter to call for back up; the backup came an hour later. The water was finished, so we waited for backup, though my brother offered to connect the pipes to our underground tank at home, we have like three pumping machines and more pipe than they did, they refused. The next thing we heard was an explosion, we all ran for our lives, it was a stampede. We came back later. We all understood that if the fire touched the house at the end, our estate would burn to the ground, that house happened to be an uncle’s house . When, the second fire truck came, then I noticed the crowd that stood outside doing nothing but watching with their phones taking pictures and videoing. I shook my head in disgust. Then, a security man that came with the truck decided to fight with one of the men helping. The security man was telling those of us inside to leave with his whip. I wondered where he was two hours ago. I dragged the man away from the security man. It was not the moment to fight it was the time for action. My phone had been ringing for hours. It was my mum. As I walked home, my hair was a mess, my nails broken; I was soaked and dirty from head to toe. I smelt of smoke though I am not a smoker and I had inhaled more smoke to cause me lung cancer than most people would in their lifetime. People stared at me perhaps some thought I was an idiot and the rest did not know what to make of me. I took no notice of all this, I only felt good that I had lent a hand, even though it could have cost me my life. I wish things were better and people could help one another. My thinking is this is someone’s livelihood, his main factory (maxi foam), and his dream. What if one day, when I have mine and this happens to me, I pray there will be people to help me not watch( the owner came, he stood and saw his dream burning to the ground, he had to be driven home. The owner of the car shop was out of the country. He was coming home that same day with new cars.) I hope they all have insurance. I pray no huge fire disaster happens in Lagos or Nigeria as a whole, it would be terrible. Imagine incompetent firefighters, no chemical water to put off fires, uniforms made of non fire resistant material plus ladders that are as short as the ones we have at home. Moreover, to top it off, people would rather picture your ruin or death than lend a hand because it is not their business.(the pictures ,thanks to my neighbour. He couldn’t cross the wall, fear. lol!) As I traipsed to church around six in the morning, the next day, I passed the front of the factory; I was shocked, lo and behold! The fire was still burning. What did that second fire truck do? I thought as I hurried on foot to mass. What more can I do but pray.

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