‘We lost everything’: Inside story of how fire outbreak destroyed lives at Enugu auto spare parts market

Inside a section of Enugu’s Auto Parts Market at Coal Camp, Chidiebere Emeh and her younger sister are bent to the ground and picking up what is left from the rubble after their shop was raised down by fire.

A day before, on Tuesday, December 12, Emeh’s family shop was packed full with bolts, nots and other spare parts. Customers were trooping in and out, picking items, making payments and exchanging pleasantries. Now, everything is gone. The shop. The products.

Signboard showing the market

It started at exactly 12 midnight on Wednesday, December 13 2023. Emeh was still asleep when she got a call from one of her siblings who told her that there was a fire outbreak and that their shop was affected.

“When I got to the shop at 8am, I could not hold it, I did not know it was this devastating, we lost a lot, running into millions, “she said. “Now, we are helpless, we don’t know where to start from.

Emeh and her sister picking up what is left after the outbreak

All that is left from the shop-which used to be handled by Emeh’s mother before she passed- are scrape metals. Emeh says she and her siblings are putting them together to see if they can sell to dealers as scrap.

“We are going to sell it way below what we bought,“ she said.

Emeh’s family shop is only one of several shops that were destroyed as a result of Wednesday’s fire outbreak. The president, Enugu Motor Spare Parts Dealers Association, Mike Nome, said that at least, 15 shops filled with vehicle spare parts and other goods were affected as a result of the fire outbreak.

Emeh says the outbreak was devastating

Sources say that the state fire service arrived about 20 minutes after the incidence and tried to put out the fire. They say it would have spread beyond the shops that completely got burnt but for the fire service.

One of the officers, identified as Chigozie Ugwu, died in the process of trying to put out the fire.

The Director, Enugu State Fire Service, Okwudiri Ohaa said that his officers went to the scene with fire trucks and fought the fire for about three hours because it was intense, coupled with the materials that were on fire, including condemned tires.

Fidelis lost everything

Fidelis Okoye claims that he lost over 6.5 million as a result of the fire outbreak. He was asleep when he got a call from his neighbour who told him that his shop was on fire.

“It was around 2am, Immediately, we started coming to the market”, he said. “Before we got here, half of the shop was burnt”.

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Okoye, who sells car security gadgets, tracker, timer, seat covers, wheel covers and Car CDs, could not go in to rescue anything, even the money he kept inside the shop he was supposed to use for the burial of his in-law and for sorting other family issues.

Auto spare parts now scrap metals

“I could not control myself when I got to the shop, I wanted to go in as the fire raged, “a devastated Okoye said. “I don’t have money to eat and to take care of my family now,”.

Okoye has six children, four of them are in secondary school. Others are in primary school. He said that one of his daughters only returned recently and was planning to return to school. Now, there is no money to give her.

Not first, but worse in terms of impact

Sources who spoke to this reporter said that this is not the first time that the auto parts market, known as Tinker is recording a fire incidence. However, it is the worse in terms of impact, having resulted in the loss of a life and several shops.

“It has become an annual occurrence and usually happens during the period of December,” said Uchechukwu Ekwunife who also lost his shop to the fire outbreak. “I have witnessed at least four of this kind of incidence inside the shop,”.

Ekwunife says outbreak the worse in terms of impact

Ekwunife sells all kinds of electrical parts, from horns to fog lamp and wires.

Like other shop owners, he was asleep when he got a call about the fire outbreak at 12:30. It took him 30 minutes to get to the shop. When he arrived, he could not believe his eyes.

“I started crying as I watched our shop going up in flames”, he said. “With the help of some people, we brought out some of the products. “Roughly, I lost about N3 million in the incident,”.

I hope I can sell the ones I brought out because some of them are damaged.

Ekwunife handles the shop with his mother after his father passed in 2015. Since the incidence, he said that his mother has not been herself because this is their only source of income and what is helping her train five children.

Burnt spare parts

Ekwunife has already arranged some of his goods inside several bags and waiting to sell them off as scrap. “I can’t plan my day at the shop again, I just take whatever I see. It was different before”.

While describing the incidence as devastating, especially at this period of economic hardship, he called on the state government and other well-meaning Nigerians to come to the rescue of the affected traders who had lost everything.

Iyika just restocked his shop

Jude Iyika had just returned from the market days before the fire incidence. He claims to have spent N3.5 million on all kinds of auto parts.

When he received the call at 1pm, he got into his car and drove down. Apart from his goods, Iyika was also worried about the N3 million he claims to have collected from two clubs where we belongs and make contributions, including Ifeadigo age grade and Umu-Ele Enugu branch.

Iyika says he just restocked his shop for the season.

“Because we were approaching Christman, I decided to collect the money-over and keep for group members so that when it is time to share, I can give it back to them as the chairman,”.

When he got to the shop, he started breaking it, hoping that he could at least, bring out the money for the groups. But the smoke from the fire was unbearable. He gave up.

“I had to visit the hospital after the struggle, I don’t know what to do”, he said. “I want the government to help because I have lost everything. I have about four kids and my wife”.

He said that members of the groups have come and seen the destruction for themselves and that he is now in talks to see how he can pay back the money.

By Arinze Chijioke

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