An unknown number of people died and hundreds of businesses were destroyed when the central market in the capital, Bujumbura, burned to the ground on Sunday, reports the Anglican Church in Burundi.
"A number of people lost their lives as they were trying to save or secure their goods and money from the burning market and from looters," the church said in a report on its Facebook page.
"One woman died trying to secure around 500 million Burundi francs ($US 312,000) that she had kept in her stand. Large numbers of people are being treated in hospitals. Some sources say that around 90 per cent of goods in the market were not insured."
The church added: "The Burundian police brought two fire engines while the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) provided another vehicle. A Rwandan helicoptor arrived to help put out the flames using water collected from Lake Tanganyika but all attempts to extinguish the inferno failed. The Red Cross also assisted at the scene.
"An urgent security meeting was called by the First Vice-President Terence Sinunguruza. There followed the creation of a commission mandated to investigate the origin of the fire and assurances that the Government of Burundi would do all it can to provide assistance. The President of Burundi, His Excellency Peter Nkurunziza left the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia early to return to see the extent of the devastation and support the victims.
"In a country rated as the poorest in the world, where inflation is estimated at 9.7% the fire will inevitably have a significant effect on the country’s already fragile economy. As people are trying to make a living by selling goods and items along the roadsides prices are steadily increasing on basic commodities such as rice and beans, the staple diet of many. The tragedy will also have an impact on other African countries, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda from where fabrics and food items sold in the market originate.
"Local associations, community groups and Churches are among those beginning to mobilize a response to the crisis. The Province [of the Anglican Church of Burundi] is currently assessing the situation as it unfolds and as needs become more apparent."