Saturday, August 17, 2013

JKIA fire probe now focuses on arson as eyebrows raised on response services

JKIA fire probe now focuses on arson as eyebrows raised on response services

Updated Saturday, August 17th 2013 at 13:28 GMT +3
Detectives probing the cause of the fire that devastated the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are now blaming negligence by emergency response service providers.

Initial investigations show the response to the fire was slow and not well organised, contrary to government claims.
It is emerging that emergency service providers were notified when it was too late and now the detectives want some of the units responsible for coordinating disaster response to answer some tough questions.
In a classic case of the hunter becoming the hunted, some of the police officers who spearheaded the extinguishing of the fire have been put to task to explain what exactly went wrong.
The closure of the airport has cost the national carrier, Kenya Airways, Sh340 million mainly due to cancellation of flights after the fire.
h the devastating fire that crippled East Africa’s biggest airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the hunter has now become the hunted.
This is after the detectives investigating the cause of the inferno widened their scope to probe how emergency service providers responded to the disaster.
The sleuths also want to establish who is to blame for the massive losses suffered after the fire which led to the closure of the airport.
The team has already interrogated fire marshals from the Kenya Airports Authority ( KAA) and City Council of Nairobi who were supposed to shoulder the biggest responsibility.
“There is a feeling there was negligence from all quarters including the KAA and the emergency service providers at large in as far as the response and handling of the scene was concerned. There was too much complacence,” said one officer.
The probe has already seen the questioning of the seven police officers who were in charge of operations at the international arrivals terminal.

The officers were supervising course officers who had been brought in to offer reinforcement. The investigators are particularly keen to establish under what circumstances some items allegedly stolen from the building that was under fire were found in their possession.
The stolen items include cash and alcohol from some of the destroyed shops, hotels, banks, mobile service providers and other agencies.

Millions of shillings in local and foreign currencies were lost in the fire amid claims some of those who responded to the fire looted instead of containing the inferno.
Apart from police, fire fighters from various institutions including the military, G4S, National Youth Service, KAA among others participated in the Wednesday fire incident.
 A preliminary report handed to President Uhuru Kenyatta shows officials at JKIA sought for help almost two hours after the fire had broken out.
The brief says the fire broke out at about 4.45am at the immigration desk.
“ KAA firemen responded immediately and attempted to put out the fire using hand held extinguishers. At about 0515 hours, it was realised the fire was getting out of control and firefighters deployed fire fighting engines,” reads part of the brief.
“By 5.30am, the fire had spread to several areas including customer care, KAA administration offices, security, airline offices, Anti-Narcotics and Customs area,” reads part of the brief.
It adds, “By 0600 hours, the roof caved in and it was noticed the fire was spreading to Unit 1 and 2 through the passenger air-bridge which was extinguished.”
According to the report, by 7am, all airplanes had been moved to the remote stands and reinforcement called in. The units called for reinforcement were the Kenya Defence Forces from Embakasi and Eastleigh bases, Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Wildlife Services, Nairobi County Fire Brigade, Municipal Council of Mavoko, NYS, G4S and KK Security.
This suggests the decision to call for more reinforcement was made too late when the fire had already spread.
The investigations, which are almost complete, aim to determine how the first fire engine arrived at the scene and what happened later on.

President Kenyatta indicated any form of negligence that led to the losses will be punished.
Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau has defended the response arguing that the location of the fire was the challenge to them.

The fire started on second floor and it was difficult for the firemen to reach there in time but I am impressed with the response at large,” said Kamau.
The detectives believe the fire started from the roof of the Immigration desk before spreading. Another theory is that the fire was stated from two points.
There are claims four passengers, who were awaiting deportation when the fire broke out, cannot be traced. However, Deputy Inspector General of Police Grace Kaindi denied the claims.
The Counties has established that about 200 people have been questioned in connection with the fire incident.
Investigations are focusing on arson and accident as the cause of the fire.
This was after Kenya Power Company officials also ruled out electrical fault as the cause of the fire saying all their circuits were intact.
President Kenyatta also announced the fire was not an act of terrorism as he ordered the restructuring of the security command at the airport to be under one commander.
FBI detectives who joined the probe affirmed Uhuru’s position as they said there was no evidence to suggest this was the work of terrorists.
“We can now confirm that there was no element of a terror incident in this fire. There is no evidence of an explosion or an improvised explosive device. This was a simple fire gone bad,” he said.
The President also warned that anyone found culpable, including for gross negligence, would be dealt with.

At the same time, three US military fire experts are assisting local investigators, and the US is also providing immigration equipment to help restore regular international service.
Kenya Airways has indicated it lost up to $4 million (Sh340 million in revenues following the fire incident.


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