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Fire Explodes In JJ House   
 
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15-Feb-2010  
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The Accra Ridge residence of ex-President Jerry John Rawlings and his family was rocked on Saint Valentine’s Day yesterday by loud explosions and a raging fire.

The blazing fire and subsequent pall of smoke which lasted several hours, also left behind mounds of ashes, debris, and smoldering personal belongings- the cause of which curious Ghanaians wait for the Ghana Fire Service to disclose. Aside a wrapped wooden stool, a boxer’s punching bag and a few household items including a Ghana-must-go bag, everything was devoured by the ‘merciless’ fire.

The early morning inferno raged in the midst of an unexpected heavy downpour which flooded some parts of the nation’s capital, Accra.

Journalists were initially barred from entering the premises because the residence of the former president was said to be a security zone. The lighting system in the house completely went off, as explosions reverberated through the area, and eventually the headlight of the first Fire Service water tender that arrived at the scene was used for illumination.

An eyewitness, one of the first to arrive at the scene, spoke to DAILY GUIDE and said he was jogging in the area around 4:30 am when he noticed fire burning in the residence.

He told Daily Guide: “I was one of the first people to get to the residence when I saw flames of fire shooting high above the newly-built Olympic building on the Castle road. At first I thought the Olympic building had been torched due to the in-fighting which has caught the media headlines recently.

“To my horror, I realized it was the residence of the former president. I therefore curved off the main road and went towards the residence and noticed that both gates were open and these huge dogs were running helter-skelter.

One of the men in the compound was trying to restrain the dogs from fleeing outside, and at this time, some policemen and soldiers arrived on the scene as well as a fire tender. “I asked if Mr. Rawlings was inside the house but no one answered. A man was desperately trying to move cars from the path of the raging fire. “At that time the first fire tender had arrived and moved to douse the flames but was obviously struggling.

“Suddenly we were startled with sounds of explosion, like bullets, explosives or a bomb, ‘pow, pow, pow’, then one big ‘booom’ and with this, we all took to our heels - policemen, soldiers, security guys, we all fled for dear life.

“Some of the policemen jumped into their vehicles and drove towards the Ridge roundabout and never returned, but others went and parked their cars at a safer distance and walked back to the compound.

“A man, obviously with some authority, soon arrived and parked his vehicle, the latest VW saloon car with metallic gray colour, across the gutter in front of the burning house. “This man attempted to give some orders to the firemen, when suddenly another round of explosions went off.

While everyone took to his heels, he jumped back into the vehicle and tried to take off, but the back tires of the car were stuck in the gutter. He revved his car and started yelling to the fleeing policemen to help him out, but the situation was like ‘each man for himself and God for us all. “The pow, pow, went on for about 5 to 10 minutes and I once again asked if bombs were exploding and if the former first family were safe, but answers were not forthcoming. “Eventually, the explosions subsided, and then I noticed that Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings and two girls came outside to the gate, stood for a while and went back inside”.

According to the eye-witness, as he was leaving the scene, the unexplained explosions continued for a while and could be heard from a distance.

President John Evans Atta Mills made a quick dash to the place, expressing shock at the fire outbreak at the residence of his political god father.

The President tasked the Chief of Staff to, as a matter of urgency, secure what will be a holding place for Rawlings and his family while steps are taken to relocate or find a permanent abode for them. The Chief of Staff is also to ensure that investigations are carried out to ascertain the cause of the fire.

More fire tenders from the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) responded to the fire alarm, and eventually subdued the inferno but were unable to salvage any valuable item, as virtually all had been transformed into ashes.

Speculations are that the fire/explosion initially started in the living room of the former President, spreading to other apartments within the residence.

Between three to four hours after the fire had been extinguished by firefighters, palls of smoke could still be seen some distance from the fire scene. Ex-President Rawlings was at his riverbank villa in Vume, Sogakope, Volta Region, when the fire started, but was able to reach the scene within a few hours of receiving word about the inferno.

His wife, Nana Konadu, and daughter Nana Yaa Asantewa were both within the premises, but safely ensconced in the ex-president’s office next door when the fire ate away the valuables.They had taken cover when the fire started, unable to do much about the unfolding eventuality.

Pictures, mementoes, documents and awards et all were reduced to ashes and it was certainly the thought of some of these irrecoverable items which drew melancholy on Rawlings’ countenance as he beheld the destruction.

Present to solidarise with the Rawlingses were Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Attorney-General and Justice Minister; Alhaji Rashid Pelpuo, ex-Minister of Sports; the Mayor of Accra, Alfred Vanderpuye; Dr. Hannah Bisiw, deputy Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing who broke down in tears; Victor Smith, former aide to Rawlings; and other government officials, as none wanted to be left out of the sympathizers’ list.

The Vice President, John Dramani Mahama who was on an official visit to the North, cut short his visit to join the retinue of sympathizers. A bottle of water in his grips, pensiveness was clearly showing on his countenance as Mr Rawlings occasionally gave instructions, the kind the owner of a place would give under such circumstances.

When he finally gave in to media pressure to say something for their channels, all he could manage was: “Naked we came and naked shall we go”, adding, “It is a painful loss”. Hordes of policemen were on hand to keep curious onlookers at bay as they surged forward to catch a better glimpse at the unfolding development.

For those in town, far away from the Ridge residence, all they could engage in was speculate about the cause of the fire even before the professionals, GNFS, make public their findings.

The fire, coming at the heels of the ex-president’s recent “who born dog” outburst, could only fuel the spate of speculations, in addition to the spate of fire incidents that has characterized the Mills Administration’s one-year-old tenure. When he addressed the media afterwards, Kofi Adam, the ex-president’s spokesperson, said the fire started between 1.00 and 2.00am but firefighters reached the location at about 3.00am.

The cause of the fire, he noted, was unknown at the time he was addressing the press. As for the ex-president, he disclosed that he was away at Vume where he frequents because of an ongoing health project to stem the high incidence of a dangerous water weed (hyacinth) in that area. News about the fire filtered through mobile phones, gossip corners and a few radio station reports when it started.
 
 
Source: D Guide/ghana
 
 

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