Fire crews fail to stop small blaze that wrecked airport

A small fire turned into a raging inferno that wrecked Kenya’s main international airport after poorly-equipped local firefighters were slow to react.

Policemen stand guard as fire engulf the international arrivals unit of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya

Some fire engines lacked water and others had no drivers. At one stage uniformed officers lined up with buckets in hand, apparently to fight the blaze which destroyed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s arrivals hall, shutting down East Africa’s largest airport and forcing the cancellation of dozens of flights. It later re-opened for domestic and cargo services.

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The fire sent up billows of smoke and burned for four hours before officials declared it contained.

The blaze broke out on the 15th anniversary of bombings of US Embassy buildings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, in neighbouring Tanzania, but there were no signs of terrorism in the fire. No serious injuries were reported. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation.

Nairobi is the capital of East Africa’s largest economy, but it lies in a region where public sector services are hobbled by small budgets, corrupt money managers and outdated or no equipment. The city’s most respected paper, the Daily Nation, reported last month that Nairobi County does not have a single working fire engine. One, the paper said, was auctioned in 2009 because the county had not paid an £80 repair bill.