Charred remains of vehicles, shops and houses littered the scene Wednesday, as fire swept through Abule Egba to abattoir in Agege, Lagos.
The fire followed the explosion of a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline from which vandals were scoping fuel.
Over 50 vehicles, including the 19 parked in a shop and a filling station were destroyed. Three other car shops were affected.
About 100 houses and shops were razed in the fire which started around 2am.
It could not be ascertained at press time if there were casualties. But a 38-year-old widow, Ruth Joseph, her son, Samuel and three others suffered burns.
The fire was said to have started in front of a school at 4, Segun Akinola Street, opposite Tipper Garage, near Awori bus stop, Abule Egba, following the activities of the vandals, who came with three tankers to siphon.
The widow said they were sleeping when she heard a loud sound and people screaming.
“We were sleeping when we started hearing shouts. I woke up and saw fire inside my home with plenty heat. The first thing that came to my mind was to rescue my children. I was able to get two out unhurt, but when I went for Samuel, the fire caught up with us.
“I am a poor widow and do not have money for hospital bill. This is why I am happy the police commissioner has directed that me and my son be taken to the General Hospital, Ikeja for treatment.”
Residents said the vandals, who dug a hole to connect their hose to the NNPC pipelines, dropped the hose inside the gutter without shutting the valves.
Petrol was said to have flowed through the gutter to abattoir where it sparked fire, apparently due to the activities of butchers, who were working then.
Areas affected included Arowolo, Shogbawole, Adefegba, Katonwi, Santos, Taiwo Adewole, Wamon Taofeek, Owode and Akinlere streets.
The inferno also affected Justrite Shopping Mall, Samar Filling Station and the canal near Agege Abattoir.
Others included Charity Road Junction opposite Oko Oba Market and parts of Ile-Epo.
A woman, Stella John, said residents fled their homes when they heard the explosions, with many injured in the ensuing melee.
“I did not care to pick anything. The first thing that came to my mind was to run for safety. People were wailing, running in different directions. Many people sustained injuries.
“It is not true that people were scooping fuel. If at all people did something like that, maybe those were the people who did not witness the December 26, 2006 fire incident when hundreds of people scooping fuel were roasted alive,” she said.
A resident, who refused to give his name, said “why wouldn’t there be pipeline vandalism and explosion here again when the one of December 26, 2006 was not investigated?”
He said the only way to stop the Abule Egba pipeline vandalism was to investigate the explosions of 2006 and yesterday.
A victim said he became suspicious when he saw two 33,000 fuel tankers heading for the tipper garage.
Another victim, Moses Amaechi, said he lost goods worth N3.7.million to the fire. He said he sold machines such as generators, inverter batteries, grinding machines and wheelbarrows. Amaechi said he also lost cash which he kept in his shop on Old Abeokuta Road.
Mrs. Module Soyola said she lost the N250,000 she wanted to use to replenish her stock.
Mrs. Adepoju of 7, Shogbawole Street, said all she had was burnt by the fire. She said her wedding gown, bed, chairs, expensive fabrics, money, food, among others were burnt, adding that she was only left with the clothe on her back.
A barber, whose shop was razed, refused to speak to our reporter. He shouted: “I will not give you my name. I will not comment because the government cannot do anything. There were more than five fire service vehicles, but they were not able to put out the fire.”
The residents accused fire service officials of arriving late, noting that emergency responders got there around 4am.
Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) General Manager (GM) Adesina Tiamiyu, Police Commissioner Imohimi Edgal, officials of NNPC and other agencies visited the scene.
Rapid Response Squad (RRS) Commander Tunji Disu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), was on the spot with his men, to curtail hoodlums. Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Red Cross officials were also on ground.
Tiamiyu said the fire affected nine streets, destroyed 38 vehicles, four tricycles, 71 shops, 30 rooms, two blocks of flat and a church auditorium.
He said: “LASEMA and other stakeholders responded to the fire, which occurred as a result of the activities of suspected bunkerers around the NNPC pipeline in Abule Egba, Ojokoro Local Council Development Area (LCDA), which destroyed properties worth millions of naira.
“No fatality was recorded. The few people injured were immediately attended to by the Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) and the agency’s paramedics.
“On arrival on the scene, we found out that the spillage from the bunkering activities came in contact with an ignitable source. This resulted in an inferno that ravaged houses and cars.
“The prompt intervention by the Lagos Fire servicemen and LASEMA Response Unit (LRU) firemen, who immediately deployed fire trucks and personnel to combat the inferno, curtailed further spread to adjoining buildings and the nearest filling station in the area.
“Belongings were salvaged around the axis, including Justrite Mall, petrol stations and other facilities around Abule Egba bus stop to Awori U-Turn.
“Investigations are ongoing to ascertain the cause and people involved. The situation has been brought under control and people are free to go about their activities.”
Edgal accused the residents of complicity, adding that they could not claim they were not aware of the vandals’ activities.
“However, intelligence report gathered by some of my operatives revealed that this area is notorious for activities of pipeline vandals. While I am not confirming, I would not completely rule out that this fire was an attempt by some vandals to puncture some of the pipelines. So our investigation is also going to extend in that direction.
“Already, I have received credible intelligence on some of these vandals and their locations. I can assure Lagosians that very soon, I will be leading the operation to arrest some of these vandals and the reason is obvious; we will not allow the greed or unpatriotic and economic sabotage of a few to affect the vast majority of Lagosians.
“You can see that a lot of innocent people have lost valuable properties. Fortunately for us, nobody died. However, the incident is bad enough because millions of naira have gone down the drain. We are pursuing this from two angles as we said. When we get a report from the experts, who are currently investigating the cause of the fire, we will let Lagosians know the actual cause of the fire.”