A Nigerien cobbler, identified simply as Bashiru, and a yet-to-be-identified commercial bus driver were burnt to death, while no fewer than 68 vehicles, houses, shops and kiosks, were razed down in the Ijegun area of the Igando-Ikotun Local Council Development Area of Lagos State on Thursday.
Scores of residents of the area also suffered severe burns and were rushed to the Gbagada General Hospital, the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital and nearby private hospitals in the area.
While many residents abandoned their properties and ran for their dear lives in the ensuing pandemonium, others joined the emergency rescue workers to save many of the victims.
An account stated that the fire started around 5am when a motorist allegedly attempted to start his engine not knowing that petrol had spilled from a vandalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation pipeline in the area into the drainage channels in the area.
Another account had it that the vandals, who punctured the pipeline to siphon fuel, set it on fire when security operatives were closing in on them.
It was gathered that the security operatives had laid an ambush for the suspected vandals, who were siphoning fuel from the punctured pipeline.
Our correspondents gathered that the suspected vandals aborted the operation, leaving the punctured point open as fuel spilled all over the area. One of the tankers reportedly used for the operation was said to have also been abandoned by the hoodlums.
It was learnt that the fuel spilled into the gutter connecting the canal on the Catholic Church Street, and Irede Streets in the area.
An eyewitness, Babajide Lawal, said an exchange of gunfire occurred between the vandals and the security operatives, which led to the spillage.
Lawal said, “At midnight, we heard the sound of gunfire and people were shouting and running. But it was later that we discovered that the vandals had attacked the NNPC pipeline and were scooping fuel when the security operatives ambushed them.
“Fuel was gushing out from the tanker and the punctured pipeline and the vandals had to flee from the scene; it was the spilled fuel that caused the fire incident.”
Another eyewitness, Yusuf Ashimiu, said an explosion occurred when a motorist started his car engine, adding that the fire burnt Bashiru and the yet-to-be-identified commercial bus driver to death.
The 32-year-old said, “I was sleeping in my shop when I perceived the odour of fuel; I thought some people had stolen fuel and kept it close to my shop, so I went out with my torch light to investigate. But when I checked the gutter, I saw that fuel had filled it up and was flowing into the canal; it was around 5am and no fire had been ignited by then.
“I started warning people of the danger of scooping the fuel, but all of a sudden, an explosion occurred when a motorist, whose car had stopped working, attempted to start the engine.
“The motorist escaped with burns on his hand, but the man, who drove a bus, in an attempt to escape, ran into the canal, and my brother, Bashiru, while trying to escape after waking up, also ran into the canal and the two of them got burnt.”
A resident of the area, Seyi Davies, said people who were coming from a vigil, saw about 13 tankers on the Ijegun Road and were surprised that policemen patrolling the area did not intercept them.
Officials of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Lagos Ambulance Service and the Lagos State Fire Service were at the scene battling to extinguish the fire.
The Chief Executive Officer, LASEMA, Dr Oluwafemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said two fatalities were recorded and over 30 vehicles burnt, adding that the injured victims had been taken to hospitals for medical treatment.
Oke-Osanyintolu said, “On arrival at the scene of the incident, we gathered that some vandals were engaged in bunkering activities at the Fire Junction, Ijegun, where an NNPC pipeline was buried. The vandals had already siphoned petrol into a 33,000-litre tanker, while a second tanker of the same capacity was being loaded when the security agents intercepted them.
“While trying to escape, some of the siphoned fuel spilled into the drainage channels and the vandals were alleged to have set it on fire in a bid to prevent the security agents from apprehending them. The fire eventually returned to the point where the vandals were siphoning the fuel and the pipeline exploded.
“The actual loss will be determined after conducting post disaster enumeration. Responders at the scene include personnel of the Lagos State Fire Service, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigeria Police Force and LASEMA.”
Speaking with one of our correspondents at the Burns and Trauma Unit of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Gbagada, a resident whose relatives were receiving treatment at the hospital, who did not want her name in print, said 10 of her family members suffered varying degrees of burns in the inferno and were recuperating at the facility.
“They are my dad’s people; we just heard noise few minutes before 5am; everyone was running. My people, whose house caught fire, were about two streets away from the scene of the incident, and 10 of them were affected,” she said.
Mrs Mosurat Dauda said 12 of her relatives were also receiving treatment at the hospital.
“Where they are staying is a bit far from where the incident occurred, but only God knows how the fire was able to travel to where they live. It is a pathetic situation, but what can we do? The medical team is trying; God willing, they will survive,” Dauda said.
Oke-Osanyintolu, who later visited the hospital, said the LASEMA team was on top of the situation and urged members of the public not to panic.
“From this inferno, we were able to rescue 20 people alive; 13 are at the burns unit in Gbagada, while seven are in LASUTH, Ikeja,” he stated.