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Generator was likely cause of Nakumatt fire

The fire that razed down Nakumatt Downtown supermarket could have been caused by fuel vapour coming into contact with an exhaust pipe of a generator, an inquest heard on Monday.

Mr Danson Kimithi, chief fire officer at the directorate of public works, said the fuel vapour came into contact with the exhaust pipe or sparks emitted by the pipe.

Mr Kimithi was tasked to investigate the cause of the fire that killed at least 20 people in 2009.

He made the revelations while testifying at a public inquiry probing the cause of the fire.

Nairobi Chief Magistrate Kiarie Waweru is presiding over the inquiry.

In his testimony, Mr Kimithi said interrogation of workers and fire officers revealed that the fire started in the generator room.

“I surveyed the generator room and even went upstairs,” Mr Kimithi told chief magistrate Waweru.

Another witness Mr Gilbert Gathima, an electric technician who used to be an employee at the supermarket, said the generator was installed in January the same month that the incident happened.

Mr Gathima said on January 28 2009, while at work, there were power blackouts at around 10.30am and at around 12.30pm.  He recalled going to add fuel to the generator which was running.

“At 2.30pm, power resumed, there was nothing unusual and I decided to go and check the generator. When I was at Kimathi lane, I realized smoke was coming from radiator duct,” said Mr Gathima.

The witness said the radiator duct was a hollow tube whose work was to cool the generator and that it emits hot air and not smoke.

Mr Gathima said fire brigade personnel arrived at the scene but did not succeed to put out the fire.

Upon cross examination by lawyer Benjamin Musyoki for the supermarket chain, the witness added that there were some flames emanating from the duct.

The inquest into the fire that occurred four years ago began almost two weeks ago with the supermarket’s chain managing director Atul Shah taking into the witness box.

Mr Shah told the inquest how on January 28 2009 at around 3pm, while in Mombasa on official duties, he received a call from his branch manager informing him that the supermarket was on fire.

Hearing continues.