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Liberia news

No fire; only smoke

No fire-Mansion clarifies

Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs say electrical shock was responsible for Tuesday’s smoke in the ministry that has hosted President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf since the official residence of the President – the Executive Mansion, was gutted by fire in July 2006 under similar circumstances.

Presidential Press Secretary Mr. Jeronlinmeak Piah dismissed claims that documents were burnt due to the incident, while leading reporters on a guided tour Wednesday, 15 June at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Electronic Communication System office on the fourth floor where the shock occurred Tuesday, 14 June.

In an apparent attempt to solidify his argument that the incident did not have much magnitude, Mr. Piah said President Sirleaf remained in her office while security forces were running around to contain the situation; and that it took more than one hour thirty minutes “from the point of noticing the fire” up to the point that President Sirleaf finally decided to leave her office.

He said technicians from the Liberia Electricity Corporation and the Lonestar Cell MTN which according to him exclusively control the communication system room reported that there was a shock in the distribution panel, resulting to the smoking of the area.

“So somebody was asking what fire truck doing here? If you have an electrical arrangement like this and there is a shock and smoke is coming on, will it be anything logical to say it will be a foolish thing to call a fire truck?” he asked.

Mr. Piah argued that fire truck was invited so that if the situation on the fourth floor tried to go beyond a proportion that could develop into a full grown fire in the Ministry, then those with the technical expertise to contain it would have already been on the ground.

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Reporters observed that there was no light in the corridor of the fourth floor of the Foreign Ministry, but Mr. Piah said it was “not necessarily that it was badly affected,” rather citing precautionary measure to keep the place off until everything is crossed-checked.

“… So something is happening, the people who have responsibility in that sector in a timely manner they are communicated to. They come; they’re on stand-by while other measures were being used to contain what was happening here. Somebody says why you called them. What kind of logic is that,” he said further.

President Sirleaf had hosted a dinner for guests and dignitaries, including former President John Kuffor of Ghana on the Fourth Floor of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Hill to mark the July 26, 2006 Independence Celebrations when fire broke up in the building, forcing the VIPs to hurriedly leave the banquet hall for safety.

Subsequent investigations buttressed by FBI agents from the United States attributed cause of the fire to electrical shocks. President Sirleaf relocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Executive Mansion barely six months into her first term where she has been temporarily sheltered since 2006.

The Assistant Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr. J. Wesley Washington dismissed claims of fire in the ministry, but said there was only smoke. “Why you say attacked from fire? There wasn’t any fire here. There was smoke that came from … this office. I wouldn’t know what caused the smoke. It’s a shock – electrical shock,” Mr. Wesley said, adding that “we” asked employees to leave the office as precautionary measure.

During Mr. Piah’s interaction with reporters, he said the President was in her office, further noting that the President used the lift to get to her office. He said though the panel bar was destroyed because it was where the shock took place, but fortunately the equipment in the very room remained in intact and the incident did not go to the point where the Ministry would be on fire.

He said the response measure succeeded and the fire service was not even required to go into action to put off fire because the incident was contained where it started from. According to him, officers of the elite presidential guard Executive Protection Service or EPS were there with their fire extinguisher, forced the door opened, identified the source of the problem and contained it immediately.

Mr. Piah said security forces could not wait but did everything possible to contain the situation because it took Lonestar GSM some time to arrive when they were contacted. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Lonestar GSM has taken responsibility to repair the area where the shock happened.

By Winston W. Parley-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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