A pall of thick black smoke on the skyline in the Kwame Nkrumah Circle area of Accra in the early hours of yesterday turned out to be a major fire outbreak on the top floor of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) head office annex.
At the commencement of the fire outbreak, it attracted a few eyewitnesses but when the extent of the raging fire became clearer as fire tenders, their sirens blaring started racing to the place, more and more onlookers headed for the location.
What many thought was going to take a few minutes to put out turned to hours as the fire tenders at the peak of the fight against the inferno went pass half a dozen.
It was clear that personnel of the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS), given the range of equipment at their disposal, could not have subdued the fire without reinforcement from sister firefighting outfits.
The Ghana Armed Forces firefighters joined in the fight, but even with the reinforcement and the constant supply of water to the scene, the inferno remained stubborn and refused to respond to the volumes of water directed at it.
Even at 1:00pm when DAILY GUIDE went to the location for an update, there were pockets of flame on the top floor as a specialized tender of the GNFS continued to direct a jet of water at them.
It was a teasing game between the GNFS and the fire as onlookers passed derogatory remarks about the efficiency of the firefighters.
In the general area of the building, a few people were seen digging a location in what looked like a search for a fire hydrant.
There were wild rumours that a stash of cash running into millions of cedis that was collected before the week ended were all in flames, but GRA sources is claiming that there was no cash at the place.
The architecture of the building appeared to contain a lot of combustible material, hence the rather challenging task which faced the firefighters in putting out the inferno.
A source at the GRA office told DAILY GUIDE that multiple alarms were triggered earlier on the building at least on two occasions in the preceding weeks but nothing was done to probe it, let alone seek remedies to obviate a future fire.
The Deputy Minister of Interior, Henry Quartey, who doubles as MP for the Ayawaso Central, where the incident happened, was present at the scene during the firefighting session.
According to him, when the number of fire tenders exceeds five at a fire scene, the issue becomes a national security affair.
The situation at the GRA office had, of course, taken on that dimension, hence the swarms of security personnel, uniform and plainclothes.
He said, “I was, therefore, compelled under the circumstances to engage the national security apparatus and the IGP, both of who quickly dispatched personnel to the scene. We are ensuring that people do not go beyond the gates of the burning building.”
Four fire fighters sustained injuries during yesterday’s inferno, one of them reported to be in serious condition and therefore rushed to hospital.
All the gurus in the revenue agencies rushed to the scene upon hearing about the inferno.
Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta, newly appointed Board Chairman of the GRA Prof. Stephen Adei, Acting Commissioner General Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah and Col. Kwadwo Damoah, who is the Head of Customs at the GRA, were spotted at the fire scene.
Mr. Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah, when he was reached by DAILY GUIDE, described the incident as “a sad day for all of us.”
He said, “For several hours, personnel of the GNFS battled to put out the fire even though it was difficult. Other stations joined. We are working on our recovery plans and very soon we would know the extent of damage. We have backups for data on our core platform anyway. Not however the physical ones.”
Many onlookers had earlier ‘attacked’ fire fighters with verbal queries for, what according to them, their inefficiency in handling the fire.
In his reaction, however, Elis Robinson Okoe of the Public Relations Office of the GNFS, said personnel had to assess the situation before fighting the fire.
When military fire fighters arrived at the scene, they were greeted with applause, but they too could not bring the fire under control.
Staff of the gutted building would be working at the headquarters, the Kinbu and Adabraka branches, according to the GRA.
Contingency arrangements have been put in place for taxpayers to be served at the above-mentioned locations.
Whatever contingency arrangements have been put in place, GRA operations would definitely suffer a major setback considering the importance of this annex whose archives unit is said to have suffered badly from the inferno.
By A.R. Gomda|DGN Online