The inquest into the death of 29 people at Nakumatt Downtown, Nairobi, will continue on February 26 without delay.
The 12-year-old case was set for hearing before Milimani chief magistrate Francis Andayi yesterday, as reported by the Star Newspaper, but could not proceed after the lawyer holding a watching brief for Nakumatt failed to appear in court. The 29, among them five Nakummatt employees, died during the January 28, 2009 fire tragedy.
Investigating officer Emmanuel Ng’etich and a crime scene officer will be the last to testify. After investigations led by detective Ngetich, who is currently attached to the Nairobi Area DCI, it was recommended a public inquest be conducted in an open court.
During the last hearing, a senior officer from the Electrical engineering department of the old Ministry of Public Works completed his testimony.
In his evidence in chief, Danson M. Kimathi, who is a chief electrical engineering officer, produced a report of their findings. He told then-trial magistrate Kiarie Waweru, now a High Court judge, that the fire may have originated from fuel vapours or gas coming in contact with a hot exhaust pipe of a generator, or sparks emanating from contacts during a changeover from DC to AC could have ignited the hot vapours.
The witness told the court that on January 29, 2009, his boss instructed him and his colleagues to proceed to the scene at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street, Nairobi. They started investigating and later prepared the findings. Kimathi said he recommended that all building occupants should be trained on how to prevent or fight fires and vacate in case of emergencies.
Other recommendations included providing and appropriately stationing fire fighting equipment and advising security guards to make frequent visits to all places, and not sitting at one place.
The report also says fire alarm systems should be put in place to alert the occupants in case of emergency. And lastly, all exit doors should be locked in the open position and kept clear. So far, 11 witnesses, including Nakumatt Downtown director Atul Maganial Shah, have testified.
According to the prosecution, on January 28, 2009, at about 2.30pm inside the supermarket, a smoke was seen emanating from the generator room which was stationed on the ground floor near the stairs which lead to a mezzanine floor. The witnesses told the court that the supermarket was a single-store building.
They said immediately thereafter, an explosion was heard which allegedly caused a blackout within the entire building. The court heard that workers made efforts to extinguish the fire but they were overwhelmed.
During the evacuation exercise, customers and employees who were at the ground floor managed to escape using the entrance and exit doors, but the fate of those who were upstairs on the mezzanine floor could not be immediately established.
They said that the supermarket management quickly contacted the city fire brigade who responded immediately. The court heard that even the combined force of at least 10 fire engines from the defunct Nairobi city council, the Kenya Air force, the Kenya Airports Authority, Nairobi fire services and the G.4.S Security firm to control the inferno was all in vain. Nearby streets were engulfed in the smoke, hence blurring vision.
The fire fighting exercise continued for three consecutive days without success. The 29 people were badly burnt and found upstairs on the mezzanine floor trapped in the debris.