By Tessy Igomu, Jet Stanley Madu and Bianca Iboma
More details have emerged on how a female hostel at Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), nicknamed ‘Bakassi’ was gutted by a raging fire early yesterday morning.
The fire incident, which started at about 5:00am, yesterday, while many of the students were asleep, lasted for about six hours, resulting in about 13 of them being injured, some, very seriously, before it was brought under control.
But, the fire destroyed students’ personal belongings, ranging from laptops, books, flash drives and varieties of GSM phones.
“Please, there’s a fire in my school, YABATECH, girls hostel…. We’ve contacted 112 but, we still need help. Please retweet,” a female student simply named Uche tweeted at about 6:00am.
Eyewitnesses said the fire, which initially started from the top floor of the three- storey double-wing building housing HND 2 Computer Science final year students, before spreading to other parts of the building, led to panic and stampede in the cause of which many students were injured while trying to escape, under the cover of darkness.
Speaking on the cause of the fire, a female student who declined to be named, said: “Around 5:15am, we saw smoke coming out of an electrical connection when the school generator was switched on due to power outage. In a twinkling of an eye, fire raged all over the place and students began to run helter-skelter.
“We did not even try to put out the fire because it was intense and was spreading so fast maybe because of the woman who sells kerosene in the hostel. She was thought to have stored some there. We couldn’t get a fire extinguisher but, we were able to inform school authorities who responded with the fire service equipment stationed in the school premises.”
Wadi, an HND 2 Mechanical Engineering student of the PDG male hostel said there were some delays by fire service operators.
“I think they had some technical fault initially because it took them some minutes before they could master the tools they used to put off the fire.”
One of the affected HND 2 Computer Science students suspected that power surge caused the inferno. “There were electric sparks from the connections. But, initially, we did not see it as something serious. We are writing exams, some of us had papers on Wednesday morning; those who were sleeping were those who did not have exams to write.
“Nobody expected it would spread but, within a short time, it did, making most people who thought they were safe and did not bother to remove personal effects and important documents to eventually lose them to the inferno. The hostel wing, renovated last year, is said to occupy more than 200 students.
Public Relations Officer of the institution, Dr. Charles Oni, in a statement debunked a report which initially broke out on social media that the fire service department did not respond promptly.
Oni insisted the fire service department responded promptly and also noted that “the firemen needed an excavator to attend to the fire which the college provided promptly. It was while they were waiting to have this in place that rumour spread that they have run out of water.
“This made students to frantically mobilise to put out the inferno. But, in all, it took the arrival of fire fighters from the University of Lagos and the Lagos Fire Service at about 6:00am to effectively put out the fire.
As for the injured, figures between three and 20 were initially bandied about, while 20 rooms of the 27-room structure were said to have been extensively damaged by the inferno, but, Oni confirmed that only 13 students were affected.
Three of them with more serious injuries, he said, are being attended to at the nearby Yaba Military Hospital.
Daily Sun investigation indicated that other injured victims were rushed to the College Medical Centre, Yaba, General Hospital, Randle Avenue and Yaba Military Hospital.
Speaking on the incident, General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu said immediately an alert was received on the fire incident at about 5.50am, the agency activated its Emergency Response Team (ERT), and sent it to the scene.
He said preliminary investigation conducted at the fire scene revealed that it was caused by electrical power surge from the ground floor of the building where computer monitors, CPUs and other gadgets were kept.
The LASEMA boss, however, said proper investigation would be carried out while school authorities have suspended, for now, all academic activities, including exams and lectures, against the backdrop of the development.
Meanwhile, the Rector has called on the college community to remain calm while the management finds ways to soothe the pains inflicted by the accident.
The rector said this when she visited students who were on admission at the College Medical Centre and the Military Hospital, following the fire accident.
The rector prayed for and gave them gifts, including money and reassured them that the management was with them and will always be by their side in ensuring they returned to their studies before the weekend.
Already, efforts are in top gear to redistribute the affected students into other available hostels pending the repair of two burnt floors. Dr. Ladipo said yesterday that parents should not panic and that their children were in safe hands, thanking God that no life was lost to the inferno.