Nyeri County firefighters were unable to operate a fire engine as a fire razed more than 100 businesses and residential premises at Asian Quarters in Nyeri Town.
Business owners and residents watched helplessly as the early morning fire consumed their property worth hundreds of thousands while firefighters struggled to operate the nozzles on the new fire engine.
It took the intervention of boda boda operators to get the engine to work.
However, less than five minutes later, the engine ran out of water, forcing residents to turn to buckets and jerricans to battle with the blaze that was spreading fast.
The incident angered residents, who blamed the fire department and the county government for incompetence.
“That fire engine has been lying at the county office parking lot since last year. It makes no sense that the firefighters have not learned how to use it,” said Elijah Kariuki, one of the residents.
The fire engine, which was donated by the national government, still had its wrappings on it when it arrived at the scene, indicating that it had never been put to use.
More than 70 students from the Kenya Medical Training College had nowhere to go as the fire burned down their residential units.
“We have nowhere to go. The fire department is to blame because they arrived early but have no idea how to use their equipment,” said Betty Karimi, one of the students affected by the fire.
Police said the cause of the fire could not be established immediately but was suspected to be the result of an electrical surge in a salon.
“The cause is yet to be determined but we suspect it was an electrical fault,” said Charles Rotich, the Nyeri Central OCPD.
The incident comes only two months after Governor Nderitu Gachagua interdicted firefighters for failing to respond quickly to a fire that consumed a business in the town.
No injuries or fatalities were reported during the incident.