The Asmara Cotton Factory Fire

                            Mussie Gebreyouhans


A lot of People have died because of natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, and floods. Others have died because of man-made disasters such as mass killings of innocent people or bombings of government and public facilities. At the same time, many people have put their lives in danger in order to save others from natural or man-made disasters.  I was once involved in saving people caught in a disaster.

When I was 20 years old, I had a couple of friends in my neighborhood.  After school,  I had some spare time and often spent time the home of one of my friends doing my homework. Usually, I went home between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. In May 2001, a strange situation happened in my neighborhood.  When I was walking home one night at 2:30 a.m., the street was very quiet, and the air was very chilly. At that time, I couldnít see anyone on the street. I saw plum trees located on both sides of the road. In addition, the plum trees were moving slowly, swaying in the wind. The movement of the trees and the beauty of nature seemed like a slow dance.  Suddenly, I smelled smoke and I stopped to figure out where the smoke was coming from, but I couldnít.  I continued walking home and then saw something black covering the sky. It was carbon monoxide smoke similar to smoke from a factory. Around 2:40 a.m., I heard a terrifying sound, like a bomb exploding, and I saw a flame rising from the Asmara Cotton Factory. This factory was located 1 kilometer  from my home.

As soon as I saw flames rising from the factory, I decided to go in the direction of the explosion to see what was going on. As I walked to the factory, the dense smoke was getting thicker and thicker. At the same time, I felt like I was suffocating and  tasted small particles in my mouth like ash. However, as a citizen, I had a moral obligation to help people in danger, so I decided to help and rescue the people who were struggling inside the factory. When I arrived, I heard the factory employees screaming, and I was sure the Asmara Cotton Factory would completely burn down.  After that, the power went out and the entire neighborhood was in darkness. It looked like a ghost town. I thought about the factory employees inside the fire and the future of their families. If those factory employees died, their kids and families would suffer economically and emotionally. Finally, I ran to a friend's home and told him about the fire at the factory. I told my friend that we had to do something to save the people in the fire. My friend agreed that we should try to rescue the employees. We carried a flashlight and as we were running to the factory, a second explosion occurred.

When we arrived at the factory, we walked around in order to find the entrance. We finally found a small door at the back of the factory and broke the door down immediately. As the door fell, a lot of smoke came from the building, so it was very hard to get inside and search for victims.  We  covered our faces with our jackets and pointed our flashlights inside the building. At the same time, we called out to the people  inside, telling them to follow the ray of the flashlights. In the end, two hundred factory employees followed our instructions and were evacuated and saved from the fire, but they couldn't move away from the smoky area because they were exhausted. Finally, my friend and I went to the neighbors who were standing on the streets to recruit additional labor. The neighborhood people were curious and needed to know what was going on inside the factory.  Finally, we got additional young people who were standing on the streets to go  back to the exhausted factory employees and help them. Then we carried them 500 meters away from the smoky area to a safer place on the street where people were standing and could help them. When we arrived in this safe place, some of the neighborhood residents brought milk and water for everybody.

Some time later, I heard the emergency fire department trucks and ambulances pass through the main highway to the factory. The fire fighters worked hard to save and evacuate the rest of the employees from the fire. Then I saw the ambulances carrying injured employees to the hospital. Thick black smoke was spreading all over the neighborhood. The police came and told us to move from the smoky area to a safer place five kilometers from our neighborhood, and we waited for six hours until the police let us go home. After that, the news media announced the incident to the public on television and radio. According to the news report, the police had no evidence or clue about how the fire started, but the report suggested that the incident could have happened because of someone smoking cigarettes inside  the factory. As a consequence of the fire, eight factory employees died and forty five employees were injured. In the end, the fire department, the police, and the neighbors were happy with my friend and me for courageously assisting to evacuate victims from the burning building and surrounding smoke.

In conclusion, I have always wanted to be able to help and save people from dangerous situations. When  the Asmara Cotton Factory burned down, I was the first person who smelled  the  smoke.  I tasted the ash.  I saw the dense smoke in the sky.  I heard the explosion,  I called my friend for help and took the risky but necessary action. In this dangerous situation, I did a great job and I will always be happy about that.  If I hadnít taken these courageous and necessary steps, maybe the number of victims would have been higher. Finally, when I saw the people who were evacuated  from the fire reunite  with their families, I felt happy and forgot all the harsh circumstances I had experienced.