A man injured following a fire that gutted down the timber dealership of the Gikomba market, arrives for treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. Image Credit: Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya: A fire swept one of Nairobi’s largest open-air markets early Thursday, killing 15 people and hospitalising 70, an official said.

Nairobi County Commissioner Kangethe Thuku said six bodies had been recovered while nine were still in a building.

Rescue teams searched for more bodies and survivors in Gikomba market in the Pumwani low-income neighbourhood in Kenya’s capital. Many Kenyans shop for used clothes from the market, which also supplies other vendors with used clothes from Europe and the United States.

The cause of the fire was not immediately announced but “for now we have declared this site a crime scene,” Thuku said. Security forces guarded the smoking scene as workers picked through the blackened rubble.

One market trader, Ruth Kaveke, grasped a wad of burnt currency and said it was the only thing she managed to salvage from her cloth-making store. It was the second time fire has destroyed her only source of livelihood in as many years.

Firefighter damps down the charred debris after a fire swept through a marketplace in Nairobi, yesterday. Authorities report that several people are known to have died and about 70 have been hospitaledt, with rescue teams still searching for survivors. AP

“I live in the market because it is convenient and I wanted to be close by just in case there’s a fire to salvage my property,” she said.

Her two children would not wake up when the fire broke out, however, and by the time she got them to safety it was too late to save anything else, she said.

The fire started around 2:30am and was contained about an hour and a half later, according to the St. John Ambulance charity.

Residents said the crowded market has caught fire multiple times in recent years, and traders have suffered huge losses. Officials have said access roads are clogged with traders who block emergency response services, while critics say those services are poor.