What you need to know:
- Disaster management teams say they are overwhelmed by the frequent fires.
At least one fire incident is reported every other day in Nyeri as the county grapples with a wave of infernos that have overwhelmed residents and security officials.
Data from the Kenya Red Cross Society indicates that 25 fire incidents that left seven people dead were reported in Nyeri in the last one month.
According to preliminary police findings, the fires have been linked to suicide, arson, illegal power connections and mishandling of household fire sources.
Fires as a result of carelessness are the most rampant.
In the most recent cases, three people died in two separate fires in Marua and Kirichu areas on the outskirts of Nyeri Town.
Although the two fires occurred at different times and close to 10 kilometres apart, they are suspected to have been suicide cases.
In the first incident, a 49-year-old woman and her teenage daughter died on Saturday night after fire gutted their home at Marua.
Ms Mary Najamiu and her 15-year-old daughter Eva Mumbi were sleeping in their three-roomed house when the fire broke out at around midnight. The daughter was supposed to join form one at House of Hope School in Machakos County this week.
Locals say that the woman, who had been living alone with her daughter, had been sick for a while and had lost the ability to walk.
It is for this reason that the residents suspect that the woman decided to take her own life.
The second incident was reported at Kirichu Village on Sunday afternoon, where a 70-year-old woman is said to have set herself on fire over a family feud.
The woman, identified as Grace Wacheke Nderitu, was spotted at her father’s grave threatening to end her life.
Authorities and disaster management organisations have been left in a dilemma on how to tackle these occurrences.
Blame games have emerged with humanitarian agencies and security organs accusing the county government for slow and uncoordinated responses.
Red Cross central regional manager Gitonga Mugambi said the situation is worrying and needs to be addressed immediately as response teams are already overstretched.
“I am raising alarm as the loss of lives and property is too high. We need to conduct a vulnerability capacity assessment to establish the cause instead of blaming this on individual carelessness in handling fire utilities in their house,” Mr Mugambi said.
Nevertheless the Red Cross boss noted that in most cases there is a sense of negligence or human error involved.
So stretched are the disaster management teams that they are unable to respond to occasional situations such as when more than one fire breaks out simultaneously.
Red Cross has said it would halt providing aid to fire victims until the situation is assessed.
“We are stretched and it appears no leader wants to look into this matter deeply. They just call asking us to respond with aid, which is a reactive approach that does not address the crisis. This is a matter that requires more investigation,” Mr Mugambi said.
Regional police boss Gideon Amala argued that it’s the responsibility of the county leadership to handle disasters.
“The police have no fire department. Disaster management is a mandate of the county government. They have the key responsibility of responding to and addressing fires,” the police boss said.
Mr Amala hit out at the fire department over its slow response and management of fires, noting that it requires serious upgrades to tackle the disturbing trend.
Further, he insisted on the need for an inter-agency approach that involves drills between the firemen, police and humanitarian agencies.
An incapacitated county fire department has not helped the situation, having to operate with only one fire engine as the rest lack full functionality either due to lack of regular service or are too old. Worse, the county suffers from lack of trained personnel.
Nyeri has 13 firefighters but only two are properly trained and sometimes have to work on multiple shifts throughout the week due to the lack of personnel, resulting in fatigue.
The status of the fire stations is also wanting, where most of them are small offices that double as equipment stores.
The county leadership has expressed concern over the fires, terming them as rampant.
“We have been shocked by the number of house fires that have left families mourning and homeless. The fire department has reported even two fires in a day,” Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said in an interview.
Leaders have called for an audit of power connection by Kenya Power, as they suspect most fires are caused by illegal and unsafe connections.
“Kenya Power needs to conduct a thorough audit and account for electricity consumption in the county. This might help identify illegal connections and deal with the problem,” the governor said.
The county government also plans to upgrade the fire departments by renovating stations and purchasing new engines. It also plans to train 25 firefighters.
The county government had budgeted to renovate four stations and buy two new modern engines that would cost Sh100 million.