The Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) has said it is not to blame for the ferocious fire that razed Justice Charles Mkandawire’s house yesterday, leaving behind serious damage to property.
The fire destroyed Mkandawire’s house in Area 43 in Lilongwe in the morning when he and some members of his family were at church.
Fortunately, some of the occupants of the house, who were on site during the incident, escaped unhurt while the fire reduced many valuables to ashes.
Speaking to The Nation soon after the incident, Mkandawire said he suspected an electric fault to have been behind the fire.
But commenting on the issue, Escom public relations officer George Mituka said preliminary investigations by their engineers showed that the institution was not to blame for the incident.
During the incident, some community members and neighbours saved Mkandawire’s Mercedes Benz, which was parked close to the burning house, by manually lifting it out of the fence as the vehicle’s keys were not readily available to drive it out.
However, Mkandawire said it was premature to assess the extent of the damage.
But The Nation visit to the place confirmed that the destruction was so extensive that it will require substantial amounts of money to bring the house to its former state.
Some witnesses said the damage could have been less had firefighters from the Lilongwe City Council Fire Brigade arrived on time.
But Mkandawire said he could only speculate on what might have caused the fire.
He explained: “It will be difficult for me to say what really caused the fire because I was at the church from 7.30am with five members of my family. But we had left behind an adult daughter and a grandchild.
“So, I just speculate that it may be something to do with electrical issues because this area, it’s of common knowledge that we have had power surges on a daily basis. That’s just my suspicion anyway. But I don’t have direct evidence.”
However, Mkandawire explained that the fire started when his “adult daughter” was taking a shower in preparation for a 9am holy eucharist mass celebration.
“Whilst taking a shower, she just discovered that the house was engulfed with smoke. So, she just dashed to collect the child and dashed out of the house where she saw that the roof was actually burning.
“That’s when she started calling the fire brigade and the police. The unfortunate part was that because we were in church, we had left our phones in the car. And we couldn’t get the messages.”
The judge disclosed that it was only around 9am as he was about to finish attending the holy eucharist mass celebration that he got a message that “our house was on fire and we dashed to the scene”.
“And the transformer you see behind you there was just replaced a week ago by the Escom people because it actually burst. And for Escom to bring a new transformer, I was around that time [and] I even intervened because I am the one who was calling them to say ‘the transformer got burnt, can’t you come and repair it’?” he narrated.
Mkandawire further stated that since the replacement of the transformer, the area experienced power surges and the residents were reporting to Escom.
Meanwhile, Lilongwe Police Station spokesperson Kingsley Dandaula said his office was yet to get full details of the cause of the fire.
On the other hand, Lilongwe City Council Fire Brigade station officer Amin Katasefu confirmed having rushed to the scene immediately his office got the call from Mkandawire’s well-wishers.
However, he expressed concern that residents rarely call them in time, resulting in their taking time to respond to fire incidents.
“I believe that this is because majority of the residents do not know our phone numbers to call for our services. Like in this case, the first call came from an Area 24 resident who, unfortunately, did not tell the actual location of the burning house.
“It is only Billy Kaunda [the musician and former member of Parliament] who phoned [on] my mobile number, telling me where the fire accident was,” said Katasefu.
But Mituka distanced his organization from the incident, saying: “The investigations showed that the fire started from a socket in one of the bedrooms, away from either the distribution board or the metering point, hence our conclusions.
“Issues of low voltages are as a result of customers under-declaring their energy requirements during applications for new supply. After noting that the transformer in question was overloaded due to the reason above, that is why we replaced it with a bigger one and I suppose this is being responsive enough.”
Last week, fire gutted Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda’s office at Capital Hill in Lilongwe.
Chaponda is currently being investigated for the role he played in Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) procurement of maize from Zambia.