Published January 08, 2013
LAGOS, Nigeria – A massive fire tore through a waterfront slum in Nigeria's megacity of Lagos on Tuesday, burning down dozens of shack workshops and homes. When firefighters didn't turn up, locals tried in vain to stop the blaze with buckets of water.
The fire hit along the dirty shoreline of the Lagos Lagoon, an area full of sawmills that process lumber floated into the city from hundreds of miles (kilometers) away. Massive piles of sawdust and loose shavings fill the area. By Tuesday afternoon, a thick plume of smoke rose from the mills over the city's long Third Mainland Bridge, which links the metropolis to its islands.
Hours later after the sunset set, the fire still raged in the neighborhood. Silhouettes of residents could be seen, trying to toss water onto the massive flames, which stood stories high. The rest of the neighborhood remained in the dark, with little points of lights from flashlights dancing across the blackness.
It was unclear if anyone was injured in the inferno. Officials with Lagos state emergency services could not be reached for comment into Thursday night. There were no firefighters, trucks or emergency equipment seen in the neighborhood, which can be difficult to reach and dangerous for outsiders.
Emergency services often lack equipment, manpower and competent staff in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people whose economy is fueled largely by crude oil. Across Lagos, many areas lack water lines, meaning officials often let fires burn themselves out rather than call in water tankers that can take hours to reach the scene.
Tuesday's blaze was the second major one in the city in recent weeks. On Dec. 26, a massive explosion ripped through a warehouse full of fireworks in a crowded neighborhood in Lagos Island, killing one person and injuring at least 15.
Fire remains a major threat in Nigeria, where many people store gasoline and diesel in their homes to run generators for electricity. As Tuesday's fire burned, some drivers pulled over to take mobile phone images of the fire from the bridge. The only sirens heard came from convoys of police and soldiers roaring by guarding the nation's business and political elite.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .