From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
For many traders at the Timber, Plank and Old Zinc Furniture Markets, Bridgehead, Onitsha, Anambra State, this has been a season of tears and agony.
The traders have been counting their losses in an inferno that destroyed shops and machines worth N200 million at the market.
The mysterious fire, which started in the night of Sunday, January31, when the traders had gone home for the day, consumed no fewer than 15 shops, destroying the goods.
The shops, it was gathered, were filled with wood, furniture, saw machines, edge-way machines as well as other equipment and goods.
No life was lost in the incident, and the cause of the fire has remained a mystery. The area had no electricity connection, which might have triggered the fire. Moreover, the inferno occurred in the night when there was nobody in the market, apart from guards.
It took the prompt intervention of the fir service to stop the fire from spreading to other parts of the market.
President-general of Bridgehead Market, Chief Sunday Obinze, said he received a distress call about the fire at the market at some minutes past 2am, adding that he subsequently rushed to the market.
“Immediately I got the message of the fire, I contacted the Commissioner of Trade and Commerce, Chief Uche Okafor, who also contacted the fire service office that mobilised firefighters to the scene without wasting time. The fire fighters helped to put out the fire and stopped it from spreading.
“I must appeal for completion of access roads in the market, though I have succeeded in constructing some access roads in the market, which assisted the firemen to access the market to quench the fire, we want government to assist us by creating more access roads in the market.”
He said the union had mandated each line market to provide fire extinguishers, which he said also assisted the firefighters in putting out the fire.
Chairman of Old Zinc Dealers and Furniture Makers Association, Bridgehead, Chief Emmanuel Edochie, said he was called on phone by the security guard at the market, adding that they were the ones that informed him of the fire incident.
“When I arrived at the market that midnight, the fire was much. Then we started making efforts to stop the fire, with the help of the president of the market, Chief Obinze, who invited the fire service that responded immediately. They helped in putting out the fire on time before it could spread to other areas.
“About 10 shops were burnt from our own side. The fire destroyed upholstery and other furniture materials. The fire also destroyed saw machines and plane machines from the other side of the market. It was the road constructed by Chief Obinze from Oduigbo to this market that helped the fire-fighting truck to access this place.
“We don’t have roads inside the market and that’s why we are making efforts to create roads here. We are also calling on government to assist us through the president of the market to continue with road construction to avert disasters like the one that just happened, and also to have access to the market in case of emergency.
“We thank the president of the market for his efforts and appeal to the state government to come to our aid to help the victims who lost their wares and equipment to the fire to start again. As it is now, we lost over N200 million to the fire, because there were many machines that were burnt. This is January ending, we just came out from the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged everywhere in the past year. We also travelled for the December and New Year festivities. And now we were hit by this disaster,” Edochie said.
A victim of the fire, Chief Damian Ogbuigwe, who lost two wood-cutting machines, said he was called on the phone and was told that his shop was on fire. He regretted that, before he got to the market, the entire place had been razed. He said he lost over N6 million in the inferno.
“The fire destroyed five wood-cutting machines and other items in my shed,” he said.
Another victim, Mr. Christian Udeozo, said the fire destroyed his wood-cutting machines, called Peters machine.
“I cannot stand here to calculate the entire cost of what was destroyed in my shed but I can give you an estimate. I will put the figure of what I lost at millions of naira.
“I lost all my equipment and machines worth millions of naira to the fire. When I got the information about the fire and rushed to the market, it was too late, and I could not remove anything. I don’t know the cause of the fire. We are calling on government as well as the state and national emergency management bodies, plus all good-spirited individuals, to come to our aid.
“All I have toiled for over the years is gone within some minutes. How will I feed my family and provide for their needs? Where will I get money to start again? How can I survive this? But thank God there is life and I know that help will come my way, if not, Im am finished,” he said.
Yet another victim, Mr. Emmanuel Ogeh, said his shop, containing some electric motor machines, was burnt completely. He claimed he lost over N5 million to the fire.
“My surprise is that there is no electricity in the area and nobody lives there. So, the question is, how did fire come into this place? Fire outbreaks always happen here almost every year, I don’t know the cause. Two years ago, we came back in January to meet this place burnt. I need government support to rebuild the shops and money to start again,” he stated.
Mr. Kenneth Igwemike, a carpenter, was also a victim of the inferno. He said all his goods as well as his tools were burnt completely, saying he was unable to remove anything from the shop.
“I lost over N1 million worth of wood and tools to the fire. It was about 2am when I was called on phone that my shop was burning. I thought it wasn’t serious until I got to the market to see that my workshop and everything inside it had been totally burnt,” he said.
A furniture maker, Mr. Isaac Okafor, also lamented his loss. He said he lost items amounting to over N.4 million in the fire. His neighbour, Mr. Dan Nwizi, a carpenter, said he lost over N1.5 million.
“We lost too much. Where will we start from? We need assistance from the government, corporate bodies and individuals. The situation of the country now is that things are very difficult. And how do we feed ourselves and our families? It will not be easy to start again without support,” Okafor said.
Elder Sunday Onwuasoanya, whose shop was partly consumed by the inferno, said he lost goods and equipment worth N3 million before the inferno was contained by firefighters.
“We are calling on government to come to our aid because the goods burnt here are worth hundreds of millions of naira. We commend the effort of the firefighters who responded promptly to save other shops from getting burnt. We also thanked the market leadership for their efforts to stop the fire from more destruction. But we the victims need help, he said.