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.

Comment on this Post



I was glad to hear your voice this morning and know you were fine. I am appreciative that you used your mobile phone to break this story and then provided an update. What is the current situation? Are there any NGOS who were working with the now-homeless families?

Jennifer Ruwart Chief Collaborator JR Collaborations

Hi Joanne,

Thank you for breaking this urgent story and speaking out against the inefficiencies of the fire department, especially in reaction to fire in a slum. Please keep us updated on the situation.

Warm regards, Jade

Hi Joanne,

It is really sad to hear what has happened. Even in this situation people were looted and that too under the nose of police. It is really depressing.

It is sadly funny that the fire department comes with an empty tank. A clear reflection of state of affairs, like going in a battle with a gun but without bullets.

Hope things improve and we all see sense.

Take care

With best wishes,

Nusrat Ara 

WorldPulse Community Champion (Environment Group) 

Thanks all for your comments and tender words. It is ironical and sad how important government institutions are failing us. Many are inefficient and the victims are always innocent Kenyans. At the moment, those left homeless are camping at local churches and some have piched camp at the nearest chief's camp. But whether any help will come their way is a distant dream, because the government is known for inaction especially when it comes to compensation. A perfect example in the 2007 post poll victims that are still putting up in camps two years down the line. The government promised to resettle and compensate them but to many, each day seems to bring about more sadness and a bleak future. Perhaps what should be done is to strengthen institutions for better service delivery. But i am glad i am okay.

Thanks and many hugs from Kenya,


We Can Do It! Joannes

Joanne, I am so very sorry to read this heart rending story. I apologize that I am only just now reading it. It must have been quite terrifying for you and your family. I remember when Kenya was one of the best governed countries in Africa. It is so very disturbing how the most basic services can no longer be relied upon. Thank you for posting this, and letting us know. I am so grateful that you are okay. The thought of all those tragically impacted by the fire saddens me deeply. I send you a long distance hug.


I must commend your courage to even think of dialing the phone while in danger. The cry for the poor continues as the bad gets to worse, but I am glad that they still manage to pick the pieces and move on despite the hardships. Sometimes we feel we have not done enough but it helps to know that you can only do your best, Cheers

Sophie Ngugi

I am a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the sky

www.sophiengugi.blogspot.com/ www.sophiengugi.com