I can hear some distant screams. At first, I ignore and try to drift back to sleep, convinced that it was the usual domestic fights in the neighbouring Motherland slum. We are used to that, I say. But as the noise intensified and my mind cleared out, I woke up with a start at the whistle of our night watchman. He uses that to alert residents of our flat about any looming danger.
Peeping out of the window from third floor where i reside, I shudder at what I see. Massive fire eating in to the expansive Motherland slum of Eastleigh Estate, with women and children screaming helplessly. Our high-rise flat, which is only separated by a road from the slum, is in danger too. The fire is spreading too fast and very soon, the electric poles and transformers, which also connect to our flat, might catch fire too.
In a state of panic, I dial the fire department and after several unanswered rings, a hoarse voice asks me what I want at such a time of the night. I explain the situation but as usual, it takes ages for them to act. Meanwhile, the fire had caught up with a small illegal oil smuggling company situated in the estate and the resident’s frantic efforts are overpowered by the hungry flames.
With the worst ever water shortage to hit Nairobi in several decades, the only source of water to quench the fire was from Nairobi River, which is about 700 metres away. Slowly by slowly, everything that they had worked for is razed down. The presence of police patrol could not stop the lootings from those who had managed to secure one or two things. “I had managed to secure a suitcase of my clothes and a TV set, which mysteriously disappeared after I rushed in to take out some other valuables,” said Agnes Omondi, a widow and mother of four.
The fire is said to have been started by a tin lamp which had spilt paraffin in one of the tiny iron-sheet-walled structure, causing the fire to spread to other unsuspecting residents in the 1am sleep. After close to two hours, the fire fighters arrived with an empty water tank, saying the water shortage is affecting them too. Angry residents could not spare them, asking them why they had come then. The department has come under sharp criticism in the past due to their incapability to contain fire emergencies within the city. By that time, the inferno was slowly cooling down after destroying property of unknown value and rendering many homeless and without any livelihoods.