Efforts to extinguish a fierce fire which lasted for about three hours at the Mzuzu Main Market were crippled on Saturday evening by lack of capacity by the Mzuzu City Council’s fire brigade.
Acting chief executive officer of the council, Lilian Chirwa, confirmed that efforts to put out the fire on time were frustrated by a lack of capacity of the fire brigade as well as the market’s inability to accommodate fire engines.
She said: “The initial plan of the market had sections to accommodate fire engines to put out fire properly. But since Mzuzu is growing, such spaces were taken up by vendors.”
“At present the council has one operational fire engine. Two others need maintenance.,” she said.
Team leader of the firefighters, Typen Kamanga, told The Nation on the site that they would have contained the fire on time, even before it razed down a better section of the market, had it been that they had two or more fire engines.
“Every time we left the scene to refill the fire engine with water, the fire was moving further to other sections. So, it was like we were starting all over again,” said Kamanga, whose team moved about four times for refilling.
The cost of damage is yet to be verified but the acting CEO said over 100 shops have completely been reduced to ashes.
She said the fire started around 6:30pm from one of the restaurants in the market where owners left a burning charcoal burner.
Northern Region Vendors president Stanley Simbeye said three sections of the market have been razed down. He said four other sections have been looted.
“The fire has destroyed old hardware, rice and beans sections as well as part of fish section. Sections where there are groceries, second hand clothes (kaunjika) and the other section for fish have been looted,” he said.
But Mzuzu Police spokesperson Maurice Chapola could not pick his phone to confirm the looting or if they arrested suspects.
Deputy Minister of Local Government Godfrey Kamanya, who toured the burnt market on Sunday promised to build new structures within the week.
But he could not promise if government would compensate the affected people.
“We need to consult with the President before we make any commitment,” said Kamanya.