Over the past few months, there has been a spate of fires at business premises. Examples include Orion Club (Muhanga) which was reduced to ashes while a nearby restaurant was damaged. The cause of the fire was suspected to be a short-circuit at an electricity pole connected to the club.
Mid-November, Cadillac, one of Kigali's most popular nightspots, was left in ruins after a fire broke out that burnt up a large chunk of the property. Other popular hangout joints that have caught fire include the Executive Carwash in Kimihurura, Downtown Café and La Classe, both located in the city centre.
Elsewhere, a warehouse containing an assortment of construction materials in Nyabugogo went up in flames, while the building at St Paul in which Isango Star radio was working was also destroyed due to problems with electric circuits.
This epidemic prompted the police to appeal to the public to ensure that fire safety measures are taken during construction, especially public and commercial buildings. The commanding officer of the Fire and Rescue Brigade, Bertin Mutezintare, notes that the major cause of fire is the use of sub-standard electrical cables which he said don't take long to set a building ablaze.
"We appeal to business operators, especially hotels, banks, shops, but also residential house owners, to install basic fire fighting devises such as extinguishers and smoke detectors, and to regularly check them to ensure they are in good working condition. Fire exits with clear signs should also be mandatory," Mutezintare says.
"We also urge people to ensure that electrical wiring is done in a professional way by qualified personnel and to have regular checks to avoid short-circuits," he added.
In the last two months, more that fifteen buildings have caught fire but in most cases the fire brigade managed to prevent them from being destroyed.
Over the recent months, the brigade has also conducted sensitization in different areas of the country. Over 63 people working in Kabeza market, 287 staff of King Faisal Hospital and 123 of CHUK among others were equipped with fire safety skills. Employees at petrol companies, hotels, schools, banks and churches were also trained.
Yet during a mini survey conducted by The Rwanda Focus, we found out that out of the 20 commercial premises we visited in Kigali city center, only 8 had fire extinguishers - and many of those look quite old.
According to Mugabo, who manages a company providing firefighting and fire prevention services, a clear fire-prevention regulation is missing. "One must ask, how many fires resulting in the destruction of property and causing injury could have been prevented through proper guidelines? Simply holding our breath and hoping that building constructors are fulfilling their fire-prevention obligations is a risk too far. Especially in these times when buildings are becoming higher and higher and house hundreds of people."
Referring to the recent cases in Kigali, Mugabo said they were lucky. "Thankfully no one was hurt in the Cadillac fire outbreak, what if the place had been packed?" he asked, adding that the danger does not only lie in the fire and smoke, but also in panic. "We must not only focus on equipment, but also safe exits. The issue of ensuring that there are emergency exits, smoke detection units and sprinkling systems in all major public buildings is of immediate concern."
According to Mutenzintare, several inspections have been made to Kigali market, Kigali City Tower and others, and they will continue. In addition, RNP launched early last week an anti-fire outbreak campaign. The campaign aims at briefing the population about valuable measures of fire prevention. Police officers gave out primary information and experimental guidance on how to prevent any fire outbreak.
Launching the campaign on February 15, Supt Mutezintare called on the management of public places like markets to ensure that fire extinguishers are installed in such that they could act as intervention tools in case of any fire outbreak.
Referring to Bujumbura which was burnt down recently, leading to loss of millions of francs worth of property and products, Mutenzintare warned traders and retailers not to ignore the use of fire extinguishers and always be on the alert in reporting anything that can expose their market to fire.
Police showed citizens how they can prevent fire outbreaks by the use of water, carbon-dioxide, potable fire extinguishers, dry chemical powder, liquid form and learned many other techniques. And citizens were sensitized on the dangers of bush burning to the surroundings and how to enhance the police-public partnership in stopping the act as well as enhance timely exchange of information.