By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
Two houses have been burnt down and others under threat of ablaze in Calaba Town community, east Freetown owing to old wires.
Residents are panic-stricken as electric fires are bound to emerge from the old poles.
Those who frequent an ‘Attaya Base’ at last station in Calaba Town community too are jittery and panic-stricken.
They fear the danger of being overtaken by the electric fires.
Discussions during gatherings at the ‘Attaya Base’ have been disrupted by intermittent waves of stampedes caused by fire outbreaks on the poles and wires.
The electricity supplier, Energy Distribution and Supply Authority is yet to fix the age-old problem although its officials have made effort.
Abdulraman Sow has been selling black tea and Attaya drink in of the ‘Attaya’ base in Calaba town community for seven years.
He told this medium that most of the houses which have been burnt down in the community are caused by the electric fires.
Two days ago, Mr Sow went on, a spark at the old cable caused an uncontrollable stampede where most people sustained injuries.
He also explained that EDSA officials have visited the community on several times to solve the problem, but could not succeed.
As the threat of fires continues, most youths have stopped frequenting the base. They are very much apprehensive of the fire calamity.
Another resident in the community, Abdulai Kamara also spoke about the major incidents of fire caused by the old cables.
Kamara is not pleased with the manner in which electric cables are exposed to the public.
He made reference to the electricity arrangements undertaken by government in the neighbouring country of Guinea.
“Most of the cables along the streets in Guinea are buried under the ground to protect the public. But, that does not happen in Sierra Leone,” he said.
Kamara is highly pessimistic that as long as old cables remain exposed, threats of wildfires would hardly solve.
Calaba Town Community is not the only one suffering from such a problem. Several communities in Freetown have seen outbreaks of fire incidents especially in the dries.
Similar problem also showcased at Reservation View, Allen Town community where a resident Adama Kanu narrated an ordeal which befell her three months back.
She told Nightwatch that she was asleep in the bedroom when she was woken up by a loud noise by some residents in the community who were escaping a blaze from one of the poles.
Adama told Nightwatch that she sustained injuries when she was trying to get out of her bedroom.
“I was terrified by what I saw when I came out of the room. Fire was blazing on the pole very close to my residence,” she told Nightwatch.
Adama said the sad occurrence nearly kept her awake all night long for fear of the blazing fire.
In the following morning, she said, they contacted EDSA for the problem to be fixed.
EDSA officials, she said, came and rectified the problem after almost a day’s toil.
“We are waiting to see if there will be another outbreak of fire in the community,” she said.
Rawdon Street in the central business district in Freetown is being constantly threatened by fires from electric poles.
Few days back, some traders were badly affected when fire streamed from one of the old electric cables along the street.
Almost three months ago, Milton Margai School for the Blind woke up to a raging fire which seriously threatened the school’s infrastructure.
About three staff buildings housing seven households were destroyed owing to electric fires.
The outgoing Deputy Head Teacher said the Fire Force personnel came to the scene, but could do nothing about it owing to the congested nature of the buildings.
Most towns and communities in the provinces too have not been spared by the electric fires.
A resident in the southern town of Bo, the country’s second city told Nightwatch that, Bojon Street, one of the major streets is constantly threatened by electric fires.
She explains that drivers and commercial motorists, most times, are at high risk when electric poles go ablaze.
Isatta Fofanah narrated a situation in which two commercial motorists collided while escaping from the raging electric fires.
As fires continue to threaten public safety, citizens are quite concerned about it, and have called on government particularly, EDSA to rectify the problem.
Yusif Bangura, a resident and teacher in one of the secondary schools in the community has attributed the frequent outbreaks of fires owing to the negligence on the part of authorities.
Bangura has escaped several incidents of electric fires from the ‘Attaya Base’ which has been his haunt for years.
He no longer goes to base he sees as a hot-spot for electric fires, but has diverted his visits to another community.
However, Bangura calls on government to take appropriate steps to fix the problem before it goes out of control.
“Government must not spare resources at its disposal to install new copper wires to solve the problem of frequent fires,” he appealed.
Bangura says it does not matter even if the whole wiring system in the country is overhauled.
Considering the standard of the country’s economy, an overhaul would be difficult as it is a financially demanding venture.
The electricity distributor, EDSA has metres but not poles and copper wires to overhaul the wiring system in the country.
In a tacit acceptance of the problem complained by residents, last year, EDSA Public Relations Unit calls on customers to contact them when a fire incident occurs owing to thunderstorms.
At that time, EDSA Public Relations Officer, Sahr Nepor said two teams had been set up for the east and western parts of Freetown.
Team East is responsible for fixing problems in the eastern communities, and Team West is responsible for fixing electric problems in the western part.
The move by EDSA has been seen by many as a still-birth damage control.
They say much effort has been poured into the replacement of poles and wires, but the problem still remains.
The supervising authority for EDSA, Ministry of Energy and Power has made little effort to fix the problem.
The ministry seems preoccupied with meeting the energy needs in the country than that of having a sound system of wiring for efficient energy supply.
In most communities where the Minister of Energy has visited, promises of revamping the sector are prominent but old cables still remain on the street.
The emptiness of the Minister’s promise has been laid bare by the chairman, parliamentary Committee on Energy, Kekura Vandy who said the four machines in Freetown were non-functional.
He said government, to a large extent, depended on the Bumbuna hydro-electric power to generate electricity.
The underlying story in the contrasting statements of the two officials lies in the question that if government cannot generate the required power for electricity, how can it replace poles and copper wires which is highly capital intensive.
A member of the public who spoke to this medium indicates that ensuring an efficient energy supply would be difficult without proper electric poles and wires.
“How can government ensure the supply of light to the country if the poles and wires are old and out-dated,” he wonders.