25 November 2012

Nigeria: When Furious Fire Consumed TheNews Publishing House

Lagos — Few days ago, a mysterious fire gutted a section of the headquarters of Independent Communications Network Limited (ICNL), publisher of the Lagos-based The News Magazine and PM News newspaper. It was a tragedy that claimed no life but left in its wake, shock and grief.

The once glamorous edifice housing TheNews publications now wears a mournful look. No thanks to the ravaging fire that consumed the uppermost floor of the three storey building on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. On the outer wall, the life-sized signboard and its accompanying glass panes suddenly became shadow of themselves. The left-over scar is quite deep and conspicuous, making it an issue for those who have been used to the publishing firm to now wonder if the same building is the one that once housed TheNews publications.

From an insider account, the fire that razed the headquarters of Independent Communications Network Limited (ICNL), publisher of TheNews magazine and PM News newspaper on that fateful day, began like a play. While some staff first complained that they seemed to be inhaling smoke of a burning cable, a security guard ran inside and tried to locate where the smell could be emanating from. But after a thorough check at first and second floors and nothing was discovered, the assumption was that the smell could have been oozing out of a neighbouring building.

But hardly had the initial tension been doused them another member of staff was said to have spotted from outside, a blaze from one of the offices windows at the third floor. That discovery was all that was needed to clear whatever doubt as to where the initial cable smell was emanating from. Now that it appeared that the panic button has been pressed, it was only a matter of time for staff members who were in the yet-to-be affected floors, to take to their heels. A survival race it was called but it nearly became a stampede.

While shards of glass were still flying in different directions, some courageous ones among the staff members were said to have embarked on a rescue mission. Against all odds, they got to the third floor and despite the fact that the entrance door leading to the floor was firmly locked, they managed to pull it off with the hope of confronting the fire head-on and put it off. That mission was however aborted as the gallant staff members were chased back by a smoldering, rampaging fire with great intensity.

The aborted mission was said to have necessitated the call on fire service operatives believed to have been trained to combat such rampaging fires. The slow-response of the fire service operatives did not help matters. But when they eventually arrived, three fire trucks were said to have come in quick successions.

"The response of the fire fighters was somehow disappointing. If they had arrived earlier, the fire would not have spread beyond just one office on the third floor. But I commend them for their fighting spirit because when they finally came, they put in their best and succeeded in preventing the fire from spreading to other floors. They displayed professionalism, but they need to improve on their response time to fire incidents," Deputy Editor, Lanre Babalola was quoted to have said.

Another eyewitness account has it that there had been a power outage earlier in the day until around 7pm when it was restored by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). It was reported that the power restoration could have brought about a power surge from one of the air conditioners on the third floor and the fact that there was no one within the area to have spotted the anomaly, early enough, it snowballed into a bigger problem.

"Unlike the first and second floors which the media house used as editorial and administrative blocks respectively, the burnt third floor is more or less apartment for rent, serving as offices to a number of organizations, including a law firm. And you know, the whole place is like one big hall partitioned into small offices with combustible materials that only aggravated the fire and its fury," the source said.

It was also reported that apart from other members of staff still in the office when the fire broke out, senior members of the organisation's management team, including the Group Senior Editor, Babajide Kolade-Otitoju, Production Editor, Mr. Akin Obasa, Deputy Editor, Lanre Babalola and others were also trapped at the back of the building and some had to scale the fence to escape to the nearby building.

After the rampaging fire had been put off and Sunday Trust correspondent visited, it was observed that the entire third floor was in fact consumed in the inferno as staff members could only manage to pick up carcass of books, office equipment, burnt ceiling and a host of their electrical appliances.

It was also observed that the second floor, housing the advert and the administrative units as well as the first floor that has the editorial unit, were all spared. The fire claimed no life as it was reported that all the occupants of the floor had left before the outbreak. The publishing firm's administration manager, Rafiu Salau, said the loss cannot be quantified now, but noted that the third floor would have to be rebuilt.

Meanwhile, sympathizers touched by the plight of the media house have been commiserating with it. The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) through its president, Gbenga Adefaye was one of the early callers.

Adefaye, who was received by the organisation's Executive Editor, Kunle Ajibade, described the development as very unfortunate and expresed sympathy to the news organisation on behalf of the Editors Guild.

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