Fire Outbreaks: Problems and Concerns over Location of Filling Stations in Residential Areas

With rising opposition against the building of filling stations within residential areas across the states, a fallout of rising fire outbreaks destroying lives and properties at their instance; is there any possibility in sight for the eventual relocation of the filling stations,  Victory Bernard examines.



Among the five fire incidents that occurred simultaneously across Anambra state on Wednesday, January 15, 2017 was the incident at Dennis Memorial Grammer School (DMGS) roundabout, Onitsha, which razed three filing stations, about fifteen residential buildings, and over thirty vehicles parked on different locations of Oguta and Upper New Roads.

While the other four fire incidents, which occurred in areas of Nnewi, Nimo, Okpuno, and Akwa, occurred at the same time, none attracted as much media attention as the Onitsha fire which threw the commercial city of the sate into great panic.

According to eyewitness reports, the fire incidents started about 8 pm in the night as a petrol tanker descending from Awka road in Onitsha had a failed brake and landed inside Mobil filling Station where it exploded.

The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, who arrived the scene of the fire incident at about 2pm in the afternoon, sympathized with the victims of the explosion and ordered that all filling stations located in residential areas be relocated.

Fire incidents in filling stations have remained a recurring occurrence in most states in Nigeria. These fire disasters not only affect the filling stations, it devours everything in its wake, including residential buildings and markets located around them.

While many see the advantage in locating filling stations among the densely-populated residential areas, for easy access to gasoline to fuel generating plants to run businesses and generate electricity for homes – owing to the epileptic power supply system of the nation, others see the risk in it being deleterious to lives and properties in time of fire disasters.

As a result of a fire outbreak that took place on January 28 at Adigbe area of Abeokuta in Ogun state, the state government resolved to clamp down on illegal fuel stations and gas depots operating without proper approval from relevant government agencies.

The fire came from a filling station owned by Rabeng Petroleum and reportedly claimed two lives, leaving seven others seriously injured. Seven makeshift shops, a motorcycle and a pickup vehicle were also razed during the incident which took several hours to stop. The fire incident was caused by a gas explosion as a local welder carried out a repair work at the filling station.

As a result, a task force was constituted by the government to seal illegal gas stations across the state. This is to ensure no one sets up gas stations and fuel stations in residential areas due to the dangers attached to it.

Ekiti state government also had to battle with the issue of fuel stations located close to residential buildings. After the fire incident that took place at Strive Energy petrol station, Ijigbo roundabout, Ado Ekiti, which razed properties worth millions of naira, the state governor, Ayodele Fayose stopped filling stations located within residential areas from further dispensing petrol, but to sell diesel and kerosene only.

Also in April 2016, The Acting General manager, Nasarawa state Urban Development Board (NUDP), Juliana Haruna while arraigning two filling station owners for operating in residential areas told newsmen that a lot has to be done to put a check on the location of filling stations at residential area.

According to her, “Everyone knows the degree of hazards posed by citing filling stations close to people’s houses. So we are out to ensure that things are done properly. If anything occurs today, which we do not pray for to happen, only God knows the level of damage it would cause.”

She added, “Filling stations are allowed only to be in commercial areas, so owners of filling stations in residential areas most especially the one under construction should stop work immediately.”

According to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) guidelines, to set up a filling station, “the intending marketer should submit an application to DPR for site suitability inspection.

“The inspection shall among others issue report on the following basic requirements: the size of the proposed land site; the site does not lie within pipeline or PHCN high tension cable; Right Of Way (ROW); the distance from the edge of the road to the nearest pump will not be less than 15 metres.

“The total number of petrol stations within 2km stretch of the site on both sides of the road will not be more than four including the one under consideration; the distance between an existing station and the proposed one will not be less than 400 (four hundred) metres.”

Also, according to the guideline, the drainage from the site will not go into a stream or river; in some instances where site is along Federal Highway, a letter of consent from the Federal Highway is required; DPR guided/supervised EIA study of the site by DPR accredited consultant.

Although the DPR guideline does not expressly say that filling stations should not be located within residential areas, many state governments have continued in their effort to eliminate such practice.

With growing opposition mounting against relocation of filling stations away from residential areas, the question is, “what is the best way to handle the situation?” And with myriad of these filling stations located all over the nation – majority cited in residential areas, how easy is it going to be to get them to site their trades away from densely populated areas?

Obviously, it seems site approval and urban planning have not been effectively checked by the appropriate regulatory agencies, and many stakeholders and organisations have berated this lack of regulation which has led to the menace. Such unchecked approvals could create chances of risk.

According to a safety expert, Engr. Kayode Fowode, the Onitsha fire incident was a result of improper approval of filling station area.

“I think it goes beyond the fire service. It has to do with design issue; and also approval issue as well. It is an incident that could have been avoided and one that puts more burdens on the fire service. We know such approval couldn’t have been given. Such facilities should be erected away from residential areas,” he said.

Fowode, who is the CEO of Kevron Consulting Limted, a safety consulting firm, stated that proper assessment could identify the risks of locating a particular filling station close to a residential area which will help in putting safety measures in place.

“Firstly, before a filling station like that is erected, there is something called environmental reassessment which should have been done.

“It will help to identify the impact of locating a filling station close to a residential area. A review should have been done. I think whoever did such approval should have been stopped,” he added.

Hence, the Anambra state government and other states must look into the problem of approval of site for location of filling stations in any area.

With no law against the location of filling stations in residential areas, it would be pretty difficult to force owners of petrol stations away from residential areas.

An Anambra-based safety management consultant, Mr. Chinemerem Oguegbe, stated that there was need for laws to be passed to prevent more disasters.

“There is a need to look at the Certificate of Occupancy of these filling stations to first of all ensure that it permits them to operate filling stations, because most filling stations in residential areas are not meant for such business in the first place.

“So such petrol stations should be closed down. Also laws should be passed for the relocation of petrol stations built in residential areas with valid C of O to be relocated because of the safety implications of such business,” Oguegbe, who is a member of Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria, Anambra branch, said.

On the problem of filling stations and their closeness to residential areas, a safety professional and retired fire fighter, Mr. Misikini Shonekan, who spoke to Safety Record Newspaper, disclosed that the society has become clogged up with much commercial activities.

According to him, the geographical setting of Nigeria coupled with its population has caused a lot of illicit erection of structures for commercial purposes including for selling fuel. He stressed that this is dangerous.

“It is a very wrong idea to erect filling stations close to residential areas. It is very dangerous to erect filling stations in a living environment.

“When we look at our population in Nigeria, we observe that everything has been lumped together, both commercial and private,” he said.

On the safety measures to be applied for filling stations located in residential areas, Shonekan explained, “If such filling stations should be constructed at all, we need to create a very concrete demarcation between the buildings and the filling stations.

“About 15 to 20 metres distance should be between the filling station and residential buildings; the safety regulation and precautionary measures must be properly taking into consideration too.”

He implored officials in petrol stations to be vigilant for incoming articulated vehicles.

“Where are they going to take their route? Are they going to enter through the frontage of the station or by the left or by the right? If an upcoming vehicle is coming, the road might not be sizable enough for the vehicle and the petrol-laden tanker to pass at a time. The road might be so narrow so the upcoming vehicle should stop for the tanker,” he said.

He added, “Safety target should be on ground. Everything must be put in place. If the filling station has fire hydrants, the hydrants must have been coupled with fire fighting hose. If it’s a solid fire extinguisher that is 60kg or 25kg, it must be positioned at a very strategic spot, so that when the incident happens the problem can be effectively palliated.

The cost of relocating filling stations away from residential areas is another obstacle in the way. According to the Vice President of the Fire Protection Association of Nigeria (FPAN), Mr. Dominic Aigbogun, the move by the state to relocate filling stations away from residential areas might not be feasible due to cost.

“If we say remove filling stations that are close to residential buildings, the cost will be enormous,” he said. “One of the problems we have in this country is maintaining safety with the situation we already have.”

He noted that filling stations should rather take safety precautions than embarking on such costly undertaking being proposed by the state government.

“What I will say is that there was no fire precaution. In such an area, I would expect that a full fire extinguisher system is installed, just like some filling stations are doing now.

“It can automatically bring fire to a stop at the initial stage. We also expect that for the fire cycle extinguisher, there should be a minimum of 50kg white chemical powder. We need to know that we have risk; we are aware of it; and precautionary measures are taken in the form of fire control.”

Residents’ role

For residents living close to residential areas, Shonekan advised residents not to compromise their lives by staying close to filling stations.

“You cannot live close to a filling station. Even if you are passing an area and you smell the odour of a fuel from an area, change your location.

“In the expense of living closer to filling stations, is it the only building that is around that area? So they should leave. Even if the building has been there for thousands of years and a filling station comes to the area, they should relocate to another area.

“That is the safety advice I can give: it is safety first. We should not compromise over that one. “Also landlords who know that they are building their house in areas dangerous for people to live and yet they will still bring in tenants to go and occupy that building should stop because their family will not be there.

However, tenants should save their own lives,” he said.

The cost, the approval problems, the environment and the law are issues surrounding the relocation of filling stations away from residential areas. The state government and other relevant agencies should try to understand the angles to it in order to take needed decisions, especially in a developing economy like Nigeria.