PROPERTY worth millions of Kwacha has been burnt to ashes at Lusaka’s Pen Marks store on Cairo Road after fire swept through a stationary warehouse yesterday.
The building, which is near Puma Filling Station and Indo Zambia, has also been destroyed as owners and on-lookers watched hopelessly the inferno that started around 12:00 hours yesterday.
Efforts by a combined team of firefighters from the Lusaka City Council (LCC), Zambia Air Force and National Airports Corporation tried in vain for more than four hours to put out the fire.
It is not clear what caused the fire but eye witnesses said they saw a spark on a Zesco pole just outside the warehouse before noticing smoke billowing out of the roof of the building.
A check at the scene found scores of people watching, with Cairo Road literally blocked while Zesco was forced to switch off power in some parts of the town to mitigate any possible danger.
Chief fire officer Lawrence Tubi, who was leading the team of firefighters at the scene, blamed Pen Marks’ owners for allegedly taking long to report the incident as well as refusing access to the base of the fire in its initial stages.
“The owners have not helped us very much. They are not allowing us access to the base of the fire and this has caused difficulties to contain the fire,” Mr Tubi said. “But we are on top of things and we will be able to control it.”
However, two hours after that assurance, the fire grew even bigger with flames and smoke billowing at the rooftop of the store.
About eight fire brigades fire-extinguishing vehicles came and went without success while firefighters climbed on the nearest ShopExpress at Puma Filling Station in a bid to reach the water at the base of the inferno.
Pen Marks manager, Rive Halubamba dispelled the allegations that the owners had been blocking access to some parts of the building.
“That is a total lie. How can you even say that? No one is blocking these people from doing their work,” said Mr Halubamba angrily as he led the reporter inside the gutted building.
Mr Halubamba said he was not sure what had caused the fire but that it started after one part of the building experienced a power outage.
One of the eye witnesses, Nevers Nkandu from nearby Synergy Auto Spares, said the fire started soon after the sparks at the nearest Zesco pole while the owners had just finished offloading the stationary from a truck.
But Zesco spokesperson, Henry Kapata said investigations were underway to establish what could have caused the inferno.
“We had to switch off part of town as the first precautionary measure,” Mr Kapata said. “We are not sure what caused the fire but our team is right on the ground doing the investigations and we will let you know.”
LCC public relations manager Habeenzu Mulunda, who was at the scene, said lack of access to the building had frustrated efforts to put out the inferno.
“The biggest challenge has been (lack of) access to the building,” Mr Mulunda said. “You must have seen that the fighters are accessing the building from the top, which is very difficult.”
By Press time, firefighters were still at the scene although almost the entire structure had already been gutted.
Times of Zambia