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Liberia: Families, Community of Fire Victims Want Speedy Investigation into the Fire Incident

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Paynesville – Bereaved families of the horrific fire incident at an Islamic school in Paynesville are calling on the government to speedily investigate the disaster that has caused the death of at least 2 7persons.

According to the community leader, 25 students and three teachers were killed in the blaze.

Said James T. Howard: “We don’t know the cause of the fire right now, but according to information, it was not one teacher; we had about three teachers and 24 students.” 

Mohammed Lamin Barry, the head of the Quranic School ravaged by the fire, was asleep when the fire gutted the building.

“Really, I was in the house sleeping when they woke me up around 11: 40 PM. Before I got outside, the fire has overcome the house. But I don’t really know where the fire started from but luckily, I and my wife escaped. I have two boys that left in the fire. One 19 years old and the other 12 years old, two of them left in the fire along with the other children,” he said.

At the same time, a father of one of the deceased, Abdoul Gadiri Dillo, discribed his son’s death as a ‘great lost’ to his family.

Mr. Dillo says he is yet to receive information from the school authority or community leaders about the cause of his son death.

“The only thing I know is that the place gutted on fire, that’s all,” he said, adding that his 14-year-old son who died in the blaze had just returned from vacation.

“What I am expecting from the security [or] the government is to investigate; to try their best to know what happened because some people say it is not electrical fault, and so, I can’t say that it is current [electricity] that burnt the place. The place just gutted on fire, so, I don’t really know”.

Korpo Zubah is a resident of the community where the school is located. 

While recalling the dreadful incident, she said that between 11-12 mid-night on Wednesday September 18, while her family was asleep, she heard a loud knock on the school’s door but thought armed robbers were stomping the community.

“Because armed robbers usually come in the community at midnights, I woke up, [and] woke my daughter up and informed her about the knocking on the school door but When I got outside, I saw the fire blazing on the school building, that’s how I started shouting, calling the people in the community,” Madam Zubah narrated.

She added that before the community intervened, the fire had already taken over the entire building.

“The fire was too much before people came, because people never knew, they were in bed. Almost everybody in the community came to rescue them but the fire was too heavy,” she said. 

“Some of the children in the back room were crying ‘oldma, you’ll come and rescue us, we are dying’. 

“The people were fighting to burst the back door but the fire had taken over the entire building so there was no way to get them out of the building. The fire was dropping on the people [that went to recue].”

“At about 12 midnight, we were hearing noise but when we came outside, we saw the Mosque already on fire. We tried to off the fire but there was no way to off the fire because it had already taken over the place. But we don’t know what really caused the fire. I don’t really know how the fire got on the building,” added Henry Nyanneh, a resident of the community. 

Community in Fear

Meanwhile, the community is concern about the cause of the fire as residents began setting up a watch team. They say the vigilante will keep their community safe as they express concern about possible attacks from unknown individuals. 

Chairman Howard said the leadership of the community has started putting together a “community watch team to safe guard the community.” 

“Last month, we started recruiting people for the community watch team before this thing happened. About two months ago, four makeshift houses got burned in the Block B Community, which I head, before this one happened again,” he said.

“We are appealing to national government, also the NGOs to find means to help us in the community especially the bereaved families”.

At the same time, the head of the affected school alleged that last year “an unknown person throw a fire in the school’s bathroom”.

“Some part of last year, somebody throw fire in the bathroom of this compound. We [put] off the fire and complained to the community chairman and he took the case to police, and the police came and looked at the place and asked us few questions and said they will take care of it,” Barry said.

“One month later, somebody came again and throw fire in the other bathroom again in the same compound. I went to the police again and said, it has been repeated again but since then, it has never happened except for the one that happened yesterday.”

The police said it will begin a joint investigation along with the Liberia National Fire Service to determine the cause of the fire.

But Moses Carter, Spokesperson of the Police, said he could not comment on speculations of an arson attack about alleged ‘the attack on the school”.

The National Disaster Management Agency said it has dispatched a team in the community to collect data and trace details of the decease and will work with other Ministries and agencies to ascertain more details.

Augustine Tamba, the Deputy for operation at the NDMA, told FPA via mobile phone on Thursday that the agency doesn’t have a psychosocial team in the community to interact with the families and it not clear when the agency will make intervene. 

Meanwhile, the British Embassy in Monrovia has expressed condolence to the bereaved families.

The Embassy in a statement said: “It is with profound sadness that the British Embassy offers our sincere condolences on the tragic loss of lives resulting from the fire in the Bassa Town Quranic Recitation Center. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families and those injured in this terrible accident. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Muslim community and all the people of Liberia.”

The tragic incident has triggered a mass of sympathies from Liberians home and abroad. Hundreds of sympathizers including religious institutions, youth groups, and other organizations trooped into the community to console the bereaved families. 

The Catholic Church of Liberia has donated assorted food items to relatives of the decease as a way of sympathizing.

And, some youth group, who also sympathized with the families, has planned to hold a candle lightening event on Saturday, September 21 in remembrance of the tragedy. The event is also expected to be followed by a prayer service on Tuesday, September 23.

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