Fear and panic gripped revellers at the three-day Lake of Stars (LoS) Arts and Culture Festival at Kabumba Hotel in Salima after four vehicles burnt to ashes on Saturday evening.
Kenyan afro-soul group Sauti Sol was on stage when disturbing news filtered in that some vehicles were in flames in the parking area about 500 metres from the Lake Malawi beach where patrons were having fun.
From a distance, the smoke from the burning vehicles was visible in the air.
The mood among the festival-goers was deflated as people were seen running towards the car park to ensure that their vehicles were safe. The incident was a dent on the otherwise impressive festival.
The fire, according to reports, started from a black BMW 320i registration BV 5088 belonging to William Sean Ngulube from Lilongwe, ended up catching three other nearby vehicles .
People at the site were seen breaking windows of vehicles which were close-by in the hope of rescuing them from the fire.
Salima Police Station spokesperson Jacob Khembo said yesterday police were still investigating the cause of the fire.
He said: “We are still in the process of gathering the finer details of this accident. At the moment, we have only identified the owner of one vehicle, but as for the other three, we are yet to get their details.”
However, we established that the other vehicles were a red Toyota Vitz registration NA 6657 owned by Naritha Abbas from Blantyre, a silver Nissan Caravan minibus registration NE 8838 belonging to Charles Mhango of Salima and a silver Mazda Demio registration CA 963 owned by Ansel Zabula from Ntcheu.
But scanty details from police indicated that Ngulube, in an attempt to start the engine of his vehicle, had his rear tyres in friction with grass which eventually led to the car catching fire and in the process affecting the other cars.
Ngulube said helpers assigned by festival organisers insisted on having some grass put under the tyres when his vehicle got stuck in the sand.
He said: “They said they had been doing that for a while. They did not know that the friction between the tyres and the grass had the potential to ignite a fire and that is what exactly happened in the end.”
Ngulube said he believes that if the organisers were aggressive in their response to the situation the damage could have been minimised.
He said: “It was an issue which needed to be treated as an emergency the way it was. With all that loud music, they were supposed to stop the music and announce that some cars were on fire. People would have rushed to help.
“And after my car caught fire, the others whose cars were close to mine were assured that they had the situation under control and that their cars were safe. They wanted their cars moved, but they were stopped from doing so only to learn that their cars had caught fire as well.”
In a statement issued later, LoS director Will Jameson said they are currently taking extra precautions to ensure public safety.
“We are extremely sorry that this has happened to impact what has otherwise been a fantastic festival so far. Our thoughts are with those whose cars and possessions have been damaged,” reads the statement in part.
The three-day international festival started on Friday and was scheduled to wind up this Monday morning.
LoS has been taking place in Malawi for the last 15 years in different venues across Malawi mainly the lakeshore districts. This was the first time that it was being held at Kabumba Hotel. n