“We have lost 15 people from this tragedy this morning,” said regional coordinator Kangethe Thuku.
“We’re yet to establish the cause of this fire,” he said, which is believed to have started in a timber yard.
Shoddy wiring has been blamed for past fires at Gikomba, with traders saying there have been numerous smaller fires in recent months.
Thursday’s pre-dawn blaze began at 2am (2300 GMT) and left over 70 people injured, destroying many of the market’s wood and tarp stalls where second-hand clothes, shoes, vegetables and other items are sold on the eastern edge of the city.
A police officer at the scene said emergency services continued to search the area and that several people were missing
“We are still trying to get to some corner (of the market) which has heavy smoke, because part of the area has not been accessed due to live electric wires,” the officer said.
– Lives lost, property destroyed –
Hundreds of people crowded around the smouldering ruins of the market, desperately trying to retrieve their goods as gas canisters, swept up in the inferno, could be heard exploding.
“Oh God! What have we done to deserve this?” exclaimed one trader who had lost everything in the fire.
Maggy Njeri, a second-hand clothes trader, wept by the ruins of her stall. “This was my life. I don’t know where to start from,” she said.
Vincent Kimani stood by his stall clutching a wodge of burned banknotes in his hand. “What do you want me to say? You can see for yourself I am totally finished.”
Nine of the dead were found in a six-storey apartment block next to the market while six others — including four children — died of burns and smoke inhalation in hospital.
Many of the injured were taken to the city’s main Kenyatta National Hospital were distraught relatives roamed the corridors.
Rushing from ward to ward, Betty Kaveke desperately sought her three missing children.
“I have only found one, aged 14, the rest are nowhere to be seen and the house is destroyed,” she said.
– ‘Fires are mysterious’ –
Traders said there have been at least four fires at Gikomba in the last seven months, while the last major blaze, in October last year, destroyed much of the market.
“Gikomba fires are mysterious,” said George Basweti, a security guard who has worked there for many years and seen numerous blazes destroy part, or all, of the market.
“I am tired of losing property every now and then. There’s no progress,” said stallholder Esther Mwaniki, who complained that investigations into the causes of the fires were never carried out and safety measures never implemented.
Some suspect arson. “This is not just another fire incident. There’s more to it,” said a detective who did not want to be named.
In May 2014, 10 people died in a bombing at the market blamed on Al-Qaeda-aligned Shabaab militants. DM