NAIROBI, July 19 – An early morning fire on Saturday raged through a school dormitory packed with students, killing one of them and injuring a few others.,
The students, many of whom found exits blocked, jumped from windows in a desperate attempt to survive.
The flames quickly engulfed most of the dilapidated building in Nairobi’s Upper Hill Secondary School, and a form three student died after sustaining serious burns.
Another student was seriously injured in the fire and taken to hospital, where he is undergoing treatment.
Kilimani police Chief Hassan Abdi said the injured student was trapped in the burning dormitory.
“The fire is reported to have started at 3am,” Abdi stated.
He said his officers had launched investigations into the cause of the fire, which affected only one dormitory.
Residents at the neighbouring Kenya Railway Staff Quarters said everything was quiet before the incident.
“The students went about their daily routines as usual. They were noisy when they were going to their dorms after their evening classes, but at around 3am we were awakened by screams for help,” said a neighbour.
Some of the students recounted how they woke up to burning balls of fire and screams for help from their colleagues.
“It was like someone had poured petrol because it just kept burning…I remember seeing fire when I got out I saw one of my dorm mates lying on the veranda,” a student said.
The fire affected Dorm Five but was contained before it spread to the other twelve dorms.
“The flames roared for more than three hours, gutting most of the dormitory above the ground floor, as smoke poured from the windows,” a student narrated.
The School Principal Muhia Njogu was reported to have collapsed upon arriving at the scene of the fire.
A board of governors meeting resolved to close the school to facilitate investigations by the Police and the Nairobi City Council Fire Department.
“They have decided that the form fours come back on Monday to continue with preparations for their mock exams, while form three students downwards will report from Wednesday,” said a parent.
Parents who flocked the school to pick up their children blamed the school administration for re-admitting four students who had earlier been expelled for allegedly trying to burn down the school’s administration block.
“We had another case last month where some boys tried to burn the Administration block and they were taken to the Kilimani police station. But they were released and now we are told that they are back, is it really a coincidence?” posed one parent.
Some parents said the dorms were congested and restricted movement in case of the emergencies.
They revealed to Capital News that each dorm hosted more than 30 students and that their concerns about safety hazards had been waved away.
Former Mwea MP Alfred Nderitu who has a student in Form Three, led parents in appealing to the government to constitute a commission to look into the cause of the unrest in schools, which has so far led to the closure of more than five institutions this week alone.
“It is sad that this has had to happen. I am now calling on the government to close down all Secondary Schools in the republic for one month to allow the commission to do its work because how do you explain that yesterday alone 24 schools were closed,” said the former legislator.
Another parent further called on guardians to take their roles seriously since those suspected to have masterminded the fire had disciplinary issues.
She said: “We as parents have to take responsibility because we have not taken interest in the lives of our students. The role model for our children is the television. They are only practising what they see, which is violence!”
A past report established that most of the school unrest was due to drug abuse by students, bullying, cases of devil worship and the influence of the media among others.
However, some feel that the recent spate of school unrest had been incited by the stress that the students were feeling, particularly the final year students whose mock examinations were due.
“The pressure comes from the fact that the students have not covered half their syllabus yet they are expected to sit an exam that’s touted to be a reflection of how they will perform later in the year. Maybe we need to review the 8-4-4 system,” said another parent.