Eyewitness account of Rakai school fire

Eyewitness account of Rakai school fire
St Bernard's Mannya Secondary School in Kifamba sub county, Rakai that was set ablaze by arsonists

The boys’ wing at St Bernard’s Mannya Secondary School in Kifamba sub county, Rakai is the scene for a ruinous incident in which eleven students perished in a deadly fire that gutted their dormitory on the Sunday night of November 11th, 2018.

The razed dormitory was accommodating senior three students, and it is a section on the entire block for the lower classes boys’ hostels that stands too close to the school’s rear gate and bathrooms.

Most of the students on Sunday night had retired to their beds, save for Brian Ssembatya, a senior six candidate who had chosen to revise beyond the usual hours; to thoroughly prepare for the final examinations that begun the following morning.

As a coincidence, Ssembatya says had read up-to to midnight, but while he was going back to their dormitory, he was suddenly attracted by loud screaming at the O-level hostels as the occupants shouted fire, only to realize there was smoke going out through the roof.

He narrates that out of instinct, he picked a concrete paving brick and run towards the burning dormitory only to find its door locked with a padlock which took about five minutes to break, before he begun rescuing his colleagues.

Sembatya explains that some of his colleagues were overwhelmed by the heavy-dark smoke throughout the dormitory hall, hence failing to locate the doorway even after it was later opened.

He narrates that although the dormitory has an emergency back door, this could not also help because it was equally locked from inside and it is from it that some victims were caught by the fast-raging fire.

Even after successfully breaking into the dormitory, Ssembatya says had to employ a lot of energy to force off the many students that had gathered at the entrance as they tried to escape the fire frames that were steadily spreading.

He says it took about twenty minutes for other students and teachers to join the team in highlighting the fire.

According to him, had there been an emergency window with less reinforced burglar proofs, the mission to save the students would have been a little simple.

All the school windows and doors are fixed with crossing iron bars that makes it impossible for anybody to pass through even after breaking the glasses.

Apparently, three senior four candidates are writing the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) examinations from Police custody, they are being held as suspects in the incident.

Rashid Bossa, of the survivors of the inferno now nursing wounds on both legs at Kitovu Hospital recalls to have seen a strange person passing by the window as he was preparing his bed to sleep.

According to moments later, he heard this stranger throwing in a bottle containing something he suspects to be petrol, which part got poured on his legs.

“It is at this moment that I shouted to call my roommates but only to see fire emerging from the window, hence the haphazard rush from students in bid to escape danger,” he says.

Although the school administration has since blamed the inferno to some rogue elements among the eleven senior four students that had been suspended, there are also opinions pointing at inherent leadership disputes within the school management, allegedly arising from foreign sourced funding.

Latif Zaake, the greater Masaka regional Police commander who is camping at the school with a team of investigations confirms that they have opened up a wider inquiry into the incidents, but declined to comment on the aspect of financial dispute.

The school which is premised on a catholic faith foundation is being funded by an Australian based charity organization of; Cotton on Foundation as a model education centre with a population on 1,106 students.

According to Police the deceased students are; Remegious Tamale, Antonio Ssekidde, Godfrey Lutaaya, Timothy Bukenya, Emmanuel Kasozi, Charles Ssuuna, Morris Basita and Sharif Dogiye who died on spot and Brain Ssendowa who later succumbed to burn wounds in the Hospital.

Meanwhile, six people including three senior four students, Stephen Kankiroho, Dickson Kisuule and Enoch Mugulusi; Achilles Mugerwa and Johnson Mugisha who are teachers alongside Adolf Kaggwa, the school’s warden are held by police in relation to the incident.