2 Deaths in House Fires Blamed on LEC

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Side view of one of the burned buildings.

Properties lost valued at US$125K

Two persons were killed, more than 20 persons made homeless, and properties, valued at US$125,000, along with thousands of Liberian dollars, were burnt in two separate fire disasters that took place on Friday, December 28, 2018, in Kpelle Town and in the old 72nd Military Barracks, outside Monrovia, respectively.

The incidents of the two victims, who lost their lives, occurred at the old 72nd Military Barracks. However, there was no death reported at the Kpelle Town fire incident, which had 11 occupants.

Though Ezra Keller, Jr. (a retired police colonel), who owns the properties, and James F. Sakama, another victim, claimed that the causes of the fire were due to an “electrical fault,” since the two communities have access to Liberia Electricity Corporation’s (LEC) current, the Daily Observer could not independently confirmed the causes of the fire.

Keller’s property was valued at US$100,000 and James Sakama’s two-apartment house was valued at US$25,000.

According to a resident, the LEC’s services at Kpelle Town were off at most of the night, and Mr. Keller waited for the LEC to restore power to the community.

However, they went to bed only to wake up around 12:30 a.m. to lights on and a blazing fire in the roof of the house.

“I jumped from the bed and rushed to put off the breaker but the fire rapidly swept through the house. It was then that I rushed to get my children out of the house,” he said. It was at midnight on December 28, 2018.

He added, “In less than 11 minutes, the fire had engulfed the entire building to the extent that we had no chance to recover any of our belongings.”

The 72nd Military Barrack’s incident also took place at midnight when most of the residents in the community were fast asleep, according to an eyewitnesses. But several residents who immediately woke up hurriedly rushed to the scene of the fire, and made attempts to put it out but did not succeed.

As cries of neighbors, onlookers and rescuers increased, additional neighbors rushed in to put the fire out, pouring in sand and water. But the raging flames increased in intensity. It was not long before neighbors saw that their effort was meaningless.

“I lost everything I have worked for,” said Ezra Keller, distraught.

Keller and his family are now staying on Duport Road, Paynesville, at a relative’s residence. But they will welcome any help from anywhere to rebuild their home, he told this newspaper.

The interior part of the Keller’s residence

In a related development, Sakama told this people that, “All my family members are currently seeking refuge with some good neighbors and other relatives in and out of the 72nd community.”

He has 12 family members.

But it could not be confirmed whether the two who lost their lives were occupants of the house in 72nd Military Barracks.

Mr. Sakama said he would need at least 12 bundles of zinc and other building materials to rebuild the house.
Both survivors of the fire outbreak say they are in need of cooking utensils, used clothes, and money for temporary resettlement.

The remains of Sakama’s residence

Mr. Sakama regretted that since the fire incident, no disaster and emergency aid agencies from local and international organizations have visited them, and they are appealing for help.

Edwin M. Fayia, III Contributed to this story.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I do not know the specifics regarding what caused this fire incident, but oftentimes in Liberia, inexperienced electricians and others engaged in house wiring employ techniques and use materials that will leave an electrical engineer or qualified electrician scratching his head and pulling his hair off in grief of the total disregarding for safety regulations in this field.

    Sometimes electricians inherently motivated by greed (wanting to save money given to them to purchased appropriate wire gauge for a particular job) combined with the house owner’s desire to cut down price leads to a disastrous future outcome. Low quality Chinese wires (I wouldn’t call them wires by electrical definition because they are a mix of fibre and cheap external conductive coating that barely allows electricity to flow through them. The insulation material covering these wires is another discussion to be held on Jupiter ) flood the Liberian market. If these Chinese wires are installed/laid very close to a metal roof generating heat, the insulated material shielding the so called wires fail over time (peels off) and when these wires contact another conductive material and/or the widely used zinc for roofing in Liberia, a short circuit occurs (circuit breaker is not so commonly used in Liberia and if used it’s a very low quality Chinese one that is likely to fail) triggering a fire incident.

    We don’t usually have fire extinguishers at home as it’s thought that water will do the job if needed. Some home owners might even think having one is a malediction and when advised to get one, the home owner rebukes! Don’t get me wrong, good materials and standard gauge wires might be used in some instances but some electrician’s total disregard for safety regulations and good wiring techniques could also be a potential fire hazard.

    This incident here might well be a power surge issue where an appliance was probably left plugged in (not necessarily) and when LEC switched on the electricity from the local grid (step down transformer) a combination of low grade and faulty components (for example circuit breaker, well usually a low quality Chinese one) and wiring (short circuit in wiring system) might have caused a spike and led to the fire. Not the least, the step-down transformer should be inspected as well to rule out that it didn’t feed instantaneous currents to the premises beyond the tolerable mains threshold value.

    In any case, my heart goes to the family of the victims and victims of this incident and I hope LEC and the government at large enforce and implement measures that mitigate or eradicate such incidents. LEC should inspect the materials and wiring techniques used at the premises before providing the electricity to the home owner. A special LEC section should be dedicated for this task.

    • The root cause of this problem runs deeper than meets the eyes. The very economic condition of people often render them susceptible to cutting corners and other make-do resorts to get by in life. Many of the “electricians” that are contracted to wire homes and businesses in Liberia, for example, are quasi or “two-by-four” electricians who learned the trade simply out of sheer adventure and bravery. They saw or worked with someone on few occasions and bingo! they too, are now “electricians.” Some of the solution to this could be requiring any and all so-called electricians, plumbers, etc. to be licensed to ensure they graduated from a recognized trade school before performing those duties anywhere in Liberia. But require that and the fallout would be people being overcharged for a piece of work, and all because a “professional” is now doing the work. But mind you, professionals not backed by any personal insurance in case something like these fire incidents happen later. Same way you will find a contingent of “electricians” by the LEC yard down waterside any day, ready to reconnect any customer needing the service. While this group may contain laid off LEC employees, it also has the “quasi” people mentioned above. And who cares for professionalism when you want your light on after 4 pm? This is the reality in Liberia and not just with electricity but plumbing, mechanics and even medical! Nurses are “doctors” in their communities providing medical services to people beyond their little trainings. When the attempted situations get worse, that’s when the victims are rushed to the nearest hospitals. From pot to frying pan, you might say. That’s the fate of our poor people in short.

  2. Thanks f
    or your input Mr. Snyder and I must admit I enjoy reading most of your comments and I wouldn’t hesitate you label you as one of the excellent commenters/writers on here.

    I agree with your that the economic situation of our people is a key factor in them resorting to make-do methods to get by in life. However, I believe that in order for Liberia to move forward developmentally the government should restrict the import of harzardous and/or low grade products into the country, especially those with a potential to cause loss of life and property damage.

    The government has to do something about this. “Electricians” who have no business climbing a pole shouldn’t be allowed to climb one and if found doing so, there should be punitive measures to discourage such. This should apply to all professions by the way.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Mr. Doe. All this in the interest of improving and making life worth the living for us in Liberia. Much obliged.

  3. Thanks for your input Mr. Snyder and I must admit I enjoy reading most of your comments and I wouldn’t hesitate you label you as one of the excellent commenters/writers on here.

    I agree with your point of view that the economic situation of our people is a key factor in them resorting to make-do methods to get by in life. However, I believe that in order for Liberia to move forward developmentally the government should restrict the import of harzardous and/or low grade products into the country, especially those with a potential to cause loss of life and property damage.

    The government has to do something about this. “Electricians” who have no business climbing a pole shouldn’t be allowed to climb one and if found doing so, there should be punitive measures to discourage such. This should apply to all professions by the way.

    Reply

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