About 20 persons have been burnt to death in a fire explosion that occurred at a forest in Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State following an illegal artisanal oil refining (Kpofire).
This is as two persons lost their lives in a fatal motor accident that happened yesterday morning, along East-West Road at Rumuji in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.
It was gathered that the incident occurred at about 11p.m. on Thursday.
It was gathered that the fire was caused by one of the cooking pots at the location of the oil refining activities whose pipe was interconnected to other pipes which eventually exploded all over the place.
It was also gathered that the fire spread affected so many persons in the area with yet to be confirmed number of persons badly injured and are receiving treatment in different hospitals in the state.
The commander of the local vigilante in Rumuekpe community, Frank Nwazimutor confirmed the incident. The vigilante leader disclosed that four victims who died in the incident were from his village, adding that other persons were outsiders who came to look for green pastures in the oil-rich community.
He said, “It is a fire outbreak based on the Kpofire (illegal refining) business that they do. There was a fire outbreak that caused loss of life. But not up to 20 persons have died. 22 persons were burnt but the dead body we have counted now is Four.
“Some are from our community and others are outsiders and others we cannot identify who were caught up in the fire. That is where the problem lies right now.
“The community is not too tense, rather, where the pressure is, is in the forest where the bunkering business is going on. Inside the community, it is calm.”
Expressing concerns on the incident in the community, Nwazimutor blamed lack of employment opportunities for the people by the government and the company for the activities that have left many persons dead.
Another indigene of the community who pleaded anonymity, said the incident has claimed about five lives, noting that three of the victims hail from Ndele, a neighbouring community who were at the Kpofire depot for a greener pasture.
“The fire exploded between 10p.m. and 11p.m. when the boys were cooking the crude oil. Three persons that were burnt to death are from the Ndele community. As at the time of the incident, over 100 were on the site.”
Rumuekpe is one of the communities that has the highest oil well in Rivers State but has remained underdeveloped, with no standard health facilities, schools, electricity, water supply and other social amenities.
However, the situation in 2005 resulted in youths breaking into two cult groups leading to a fight over supremacy which led to the destruction of properties, and inhabitants fleeing the community for years before intervention from some stakeholders.
An eyewitness to the road accident who gave his name as Robinson Kachi, told newsmen that two commercial buses coming from opposite sides had a collision resulting in the loss of two lives and several others sustaining different degrees of bodily injuries.
“There was an accident along this East-West Road at Rumuji after the police stations. So far, two people have been confirmed dead and other persons are wounded,” he said.
Kachi, who stated that road accidents have been a recurring issue within the axis of the road, fingered the permanent roadblock on one side of the road as the cause of the incessant accidents.
He noted that since men of Rumuji Police Division blocked one side of the road as a measure to curb crime in the state, commuters are forced to use the one-way lane against traffic in the area.
He said, “And I think this thing has to do with the blockage of the road by the police, they permanently blocked it for a long time. Series of accidents have been happening there. So I do not know how we can bring this thing to the public so people will prevail on the police authority to unblock this road.”
The indigenes of Rumuji community are therefore calling on relevant authorities and stakeholders to prevail on personnel of Rumuji Police Division to reopen the other side of the road to allow easy flow and avoid the one-way movement in a high way of such to avoid unnecessary accidents.
Meanwhile, as at the time of filing this report, the Rivers State Police Command was yet to speak on the incident.