Man started fire after arguing with police

Published on 01/02/2009

By Amos Kareithi and Steve Mkawale

When a drunken man threatened to light a fire, nobody took him seriously as police officers manning the scene charged those scooping free oil.

Shortly after, the man walked a few steps and struck the match that set off a fire that burnt 110 people dead in Sachang’wan, Molo District.

“The GSU officers were selling petrol. They allowed those who could part with Sh100 fetch petrol from the overturned ranker. Those who refused to pay were violently chased away,” Mr Simon Korir recalls.

Korir, who is nursing burns at Molo Sub District Hospital, narrates how he watched the scramble for fuel from a distance, as he had no money.

“The police dared him to do as he pleased, while they pocketed money from those siphoning petrol. Immediately the stick flared, the man and everybody else were engulfed in a mighty flame. I tried to run but I could not outrun the fire,” he says.

Issued threat

Another witness alleged that a resident, who differed with GSU officers, started the fire.

“The man was angry at the GSU officers who were stopping people from siphoning the fuel. I overheard him tell the GSU: “Mtaona ikiwa munanikataza kuchota mafuta (I will teach you a lesson if you deny me permission to tap the fuel),” said Mr John Kamau, a motorcycle taxi operator.

Rift Valley PC Noor Hassan Noor (left), Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and his PS Francis Kimemia at the fire scene in Sachang’wan, Molo on Sunday. Photo: Lucas Thuo/Standard

Most bodies at the scene were those of women and children who were drawing the spilled fuel from a roadside trench where the tanker had landed.

Mr Kamau, who had just arrived at the scene, told The Standard that the fire broke out soon after the man issued the threat.

“Even the person who issued the threats must have died in the ensuing fireball,” he said.

Kamau said he was called at the scene by a friend but only escaped the tragedy because he had no container to siphon the fuel.

Police, accompanied by Rift Valley PC Hassan Noor Hassan and Kenya Red Cross Society officials had by yesterday morning counted 91 charred bodies at the scene.

Another 20 were said to have succumbed to injuries at the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital and other facilities where volunteers took them for treatment.

More bodies

“There are more bodies in the forest. Those were people who tried to flee as they carried siphoned petrol,” said a traffic policeman who was among the first to arrive at the scene.

The officer said those who died were soaked in petrol.

“Their clothes were soaked in petrol so they could not escape when the fire broke out,” he said.

Two vehicles, whose owners had stopped at the accident scene to witness the incident, were also burnt. In one of the vehicles was the body of a man in handcuffs.

The Standard team witnessed the counting at the scene on Saturday night after firefighters from the Nakuru Municipal Council put out the blaze.

The fire that started as the victims scrambled for petrol has devastated Molo residents. And they were stunned to learn the inferno was allegedly started deliberately.

Mr Michael Siele, said his brother, Peter Malakwen Kibenei may have died in the fire.

“We arrived together and since I had nothing to carry the fuel, I rushed to the centre to look for one only to hear a loud explosion,” he said.

Siele was among hundreds of the fire victims’ relatives who kept vigil at the scene waiting for police to collect the mutilated bodies.

“I cannot reach my brother on the phone and his wife keeps on calling me,” he sobbed.

Hanging from matatu

Ms Rose Koech, 47, said she last saw her son, Robert Cheruiyot, hanging from a matatu and a jerrican in hand. “I hope he is among the survivors,” she said.

Another survivor, Rashid Baraka, 19, recounts how he went to the accident scene only to discover that he had left his wallet at home and had to watch as his colleagues’ fetch petrol.

After realising he had only seconds to live, Baraka like hundreds of other villagers took to the forest and rolled on the ground. He got burnt on the feet and hands.

Some of the people who were carrying jerricans full of looted petrol died in a forest by the roadside as they attempted to flee from the fire.

A group of children from a local school were said to be among the dead. Their driver had stopped their car to witness the accident.

At least 92 people, among them 10 officers from a nearby GSU camp were admitted to various hospitals.

“More than 90 people have been taken to hospitals in Molo, Rongai and Nakuru. We have made arrangements for some to be transferred to Nairobi for specialised treatment,” said Mr Hassan.

|   |    |    Comments (0) |   Add Comment

Today’s magazine

Undercover: Why celebs keep their love life secret

For weeks, leading Uganda singer Bebe Cool and Zuena Kirema’s marriage has been on the rocks. The golden couple of Uganda showbiz captured headlines following a muchpublicised breakup. Zuena left their matrimonial home in a huff following rumours that Bebe was dating another woman by the name of Laura. Word has it that by Friday last week Zuena was already consulting her lawyers in a bid to push for divorce as Bebe pleaded for her return. News of the split was a surprise to the East African showbiz community who thought their union was strong.