One of the indications that it was no ordinary fire that razed shops in Nairobi’s Gikomba market from 3am Friday is that the flames rose four storeys up the wall of a building.
The building, Gikomba Landmark Business Centre, houses a Family Bank branch at the ground floor. The bank was partly burnt.
The building was also the boundary that stopped the fire from eating its way into a nearby road.
On Google Maps, the distance between the building and Nairobi River, the other boundary of the fire, is 154 metres.
Numerous stalls located in between were razed, and the National Disaster Management Unit says that though no one was injured in the incident, the loss incurred “may range in billions of Kenya shillings”.
The government indicated that there were leads towards arson, with President Uhuru Kenyatta warning that stern action would be taken against anyone found to have caused the fire.
“Security agencies should move with speed to investigate the cause of the fire, and those believed to be behind the criminal act should face the full force of the law,” President Kenyatta, who was accompanied by his deputy William Ruto, said in Maua, Meru, where they were on the campaign trail.
He assured the traders who lost property that the government would ensure the market is rebuilt as soon as possible, so that they can resume business.
“The government will stand with the affected traders by building the market to enable them continue with their business.
“The incident has displaced many traders from all over the country,” he added.
Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, in a statement to newsrooms, said preliminary findings showed that some criminals started the blaze.
“From the initial reports that we are getting, we are saddened that they appear to point at foul play. The government has set in motion investigations into the cause of this fire to fully establish what caused it,” the minister said.
Traders told the Saturday Nation that those who started the fire might have fuelled it with petrol.
Ms Jane Nzuki, a second-hand clothes seller who claimed to have lost clothes worth Sh1 million in a go-down, alleged that the arsonists were out to gain politically.
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko said one of the reasons why the raging fire could not be extinguished as quickly as possible was because fire engines could not access the place where the fire started.
“We’ve learnt that there is a problem with access to where exactly the fire started. We are working on that; we’ll put measures in place to ensure these occurrences will not occur again in future,” Mr Sonko said.
Besides the fire brigade, some of the first responders to the fire were Kenya Defence Forces and G4S.
What compounded to the affected traders’ losses was the fact that a number of civilians who arrived at the scene were more interested in looting property.
The incident added to the litany of fire incidents that have been recurring in the market.
Some traders believe this is the largest to have ever engulfed the market known for sale of clothes, fresh food and furniture, among other items.
To address the recurrence, Mr Kiunjuri said the national and county governments are considering “reconstructing the market to make the structures permanent”.
Mr Sonko said the Nairobi County government had acquired 24 fire engines from Belgium to ensure such incidents are addressed promptly.
But Mr James Kilonzo, a trader at the market, faulted the authorities’ response to the fire.
“Choppers are readily available for the politicians to campaign but the same cannot be used when there is a tragedy like this.
“Predictably, the leaders will come here and give every trader Sh10,000 while the value of the goods we have lost runs into millions,” he lamented.
Additional reporting by David Muchui