Fire incidents have reached epidemic proportions in Nigeria. Market fires, logging community fires and facility fires continue to claim lives and property. Rivers State government recently disclosed that in 2012 about 230 persons lost their lives in about 222 fire incidents in the State. That is an average of one fatality per fire outbreak in one state. The property loss and the high death rate compel serious thought and action in this important life safety matter.
Let us look at some significant fire incidents that occurred recently.
THE NEWS MAGAZINE: This media organization suffered fire loss in November 2012. The inferno, which was caused by power surge in the two storey building started at about 6:30PM and extensively damaged the top floor. Fortunately, there was no loss of life in the incident.
OKO BABA COMMUNITY: Fire wreaked havoc in this Ebute Metta, Lagos wood logging community. Many residents were rendered homeless as fire gutted about 50 shanties in the area. Saw milling equipment worth millions of naira were also destroyed in the blaze which lasted over 2 hours. The cause of the fire has not been determined but the wood and saw dust served as fuel for the fire resulting in rapid growth and spread.
FALEYE OKE-PADRE MARKET: This well-known market in Ibadan lost about 20 shops to fire which started in one shop. Goods worth several millions naira were destroyed in the fire that hit the electronics section. The fire started at about 9.30AM as the traders were starting their business day.
NGO OFFICE IN ABUJA: Ipas – Nigeria, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights of woman was visited by the fire bug on January 31st. Property worth millions of naira was lost in the blaze that started at about 2AM. Security personnel blamed the fire incident on power fluctuations in the area. The blaze destroyed the newly furnished conference room. Fire fighters from Asokoro Fire Station were said to have responded promptly to the distress call thereby saving the entire four-storey building from destruction.
NAFDAC OFFICE: The Lagos office complex of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in December 2012 was gutted. The fire started at about 7.30PM at the warehouse where seized goods were kept. The cause of the fire was not known, but the speed of the fire might indicate that the use of accelerant was involved. This could mean that the fire was the handiwork of arsonists. The ferocity of the blaze discouraged passers-by and touts (area boys) from attempting to fight the fire. By the time the fire fighters turned out one hour later, the whole building was lost.
UNILAG COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: An electric cooker that was not switched off during power outage caused this fire incident in a dormitory room. The entire room was razed by the fire that erupted when light was restored. Students used buckets of water and portable fire extinguishers to battle the blaze prior to the arrival of firemen. No life was lost in this residence hall fire.
MDG OFFICE: The Office of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in Bauchi State was in October 2012 destroyed by fire. The night time fire affected all the offices in the building including official documents, files, computers and furniture among others. The cause of the fire is unknown, but the intensity and rapid spread showed that accelerants were used. In other words, it appeared to be an arson attack.
The Oko Baba fire in a logging community bore the hallmarks of the Peshtigo Fire which occurred in Wisconsin, USA in 1871. That fire is credited in history as the largest fire in US history. While the market fire and logging community fire may be less amenable to technological control, my heart bleeds to hear about the great loss in the MDG office fire in Bauchi or the NAFDAC Office fire in Lagos.. Ironically those two fives bore the signs of internally started fires. So, why was there no sprinkler system, or hose reel system to fight those fire?
Use of sprinkler systems can rescue the growth and spread of fire, for the purpose of total extinction of the fire, or to retard it until the arrival of the fire authority. Installation of a sprinkler system begins with design of the system. Some design factors:
a) HAZARD CLASSIFICATION: Determining the hazards of the occupancy is important in the proper design of a fire sprinkler system. The hazard classification affects decisions on sprinkler spacing distance, sprinkler discharge criteria including area of operation and design densities and the overall water supply requirements for the facility. A facility can be classified into five categories: light hazard, ordinary Hazard group I, ordinary hazard group 2, extra hazard group 1, and extra hazard group 2. These classifications are based upon the quantity of combustible contents, the anticipated heat release rates, storage heights and types of commodities. Office furniture and papers are highly combustible as are petroleum products or wood paneling in a room. The designer must understand the combustion characteristics of the
commodities contained in a room and then assign a hazard classification.
b) SMALL ROOM RULE: NFPA 13 mandates that the distance from sprinklers to walls shall not exceed one half of the allowable distance between sprinkler. The small room rules allows for adjustments in sprinkler spacing due to lights and A/C vents without requiring additional sprinklers in an area.
c) HYDRAULICALLY REMOTE AREA: The design area is required to be the “hydraulically most demanding” area often called the remote area or the design area. While an area located farthest from the water source might be a “remote area”, other factors can account for this sprinkler design challenge. They include multiple hazard occupancies, system configuration, and building layout.
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