No fewer than 27 shops and goods worth several millions of naira were destroyed in a midnight fire at a market in Umuahia, Abia state.The fire, which was said to have been caused by a power surge, started at about 11.30pm at the market located on Oba Street, off Club road, Umuahia.
Residents around the area said the fire, which ravaged the market on Wednesday, had raged for more than two hours before shop owners came around to salvage some of their goods inside the shops.
When PUNCH Metro visited the scene of the incident, some children were seen scavenging the rubble of the affected shops. One of the scavengers, a woman, told our correspondent that she was not a shop owner in the market, but had only come to collect firewood.
A shop owner, who identified herself as Mrs. Virginia Odidika, said she lost all her means of livelihood to the fire.
According to Odidika, who deals in beverages, she run the business along with her son, who was sacked from the state’s civil service for being a non-indigene.
She said, “When we got news of the fire, we rushed to see if we could salvage some of our goods. But when we got here, the fire was raging uncontrollably, making it too risky for anyone to attempt going near it, let alone salvaging goods.
“I lost all my goods to the fire. This is a small business I manage with my son, who was sacked from the state’s civil service for being a non-indigene. Now that we have lost everything, we don’t know where to start from.”
Chukwunyere Nwaedom, another shop owner and dealer in soft drinks, said he lost goods worth over N2m.
“We could not salvage anything. Doing that would have meant putting our lives at risk. I lost goods worth over N2m to this incident,” he said.
Okeke Kingsley, who claimed to be a major distributor of a bottling company’s products, said he just stocked his shop with goods a day to the incident.
He also lamented that men of the Abia State Fire Service were called to help put out the fire, but they claimed not to have fuel in their vehicles.
“We had lost hope that men from the fire service would come after they had told us they had no fuel. They later showed up, but by then it was already too late. We fought the fire for hours in our own little way, but there was little we could do to reduce the damage,” he said.
The Controller, Abia State Fire Service, Mr. Victor Gbaruko, however, said the shop owners did not call the fire service, adding that rather, it was policemen that alerted the fire service.
He said, “It is not true that the traders called the fire service. The truth of the matter is that policemen drove down to our station to alert us. When we got there, the policemen deserted us and the people prevented our men from doing their jobs.
“When our men called on the policemen to help us gain access to the scene, it resulted in a confrontation between our men and the police.
“That was the end of the firefighting. Anybody who told you that they called us is lying because most of them don’t even know our phone numbers.”