Fire Damages Nairobi Airport

Fire Damages Nairobi Airport

Nairobi, Kenya


Jason So and Sofia Zavala

Fire Damages Nairobi Airport in Kenya

            On Wednesday, August 7th, a fire broke out in the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport located in Nairobi, Kenya. What seemed like a small fire later turned into a large-scale blaze affecting the entire international arrivals section of the airport facility. This fire was able to spread quickly due to the fact that the fire fighters were unable to respond fast enough. The firemen had no working fire engine or water hydrants available; luckily enough the firemen were able to contain the fire until further help came through.

The fire sent up plumes of black smoke that could be seen from elsewhere in the capital Nairobi. (BBC)

This firefight lasted for four hours. Since this fire expanded quickly throughout the airport, the initial source of the fire was not confirmed; however, “witnesses said the fire began in the customs section, but others said it started in the duty-free area, parts of which were demolished for construction last week” (CNN).

This leads to the speculation that the cause of the fire came from an outside source such as a failure in an aircraft, a malfunction in the airport, or the cause of people’s action to incite the initial flame. The uncertain knowledge of this fire source consequentially leads to the belief that it could have been a planned terrorist act.

The fire is believed to have started in the immigration zone at about 05:00 (02:00 GMT) (BBC)

This is due to the fact that terrorism is quite prevalent in the region, reinforced that the “day of the fire is the same day as the 15th anniversary of the Al – Qaeda attacks on the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania” (Tribune). Despite this controversial coincidence brought up by conspirators, this idea has no hard information of physical evidence to reinforce a link to connect the event to a terrorist attack. Though the concept is without ground, through past terrorism events that have occurred involving public structures, it is very possible that well known buildings have the potential to become future targets of terrorist activities. Terrorists see these major buildings as the best opportunity to cause havoc and publicly state their beliefs and purposes, as they are usually popular destinations and the impact they would create if destroyed would be bigger.

The purpose for these acts of terrorism on buildings is to bring fear into the people who inhabit the area or are related to them politically, religiously, etc. Their motive is to not only show their presence, but also to manipulate the people’s emotions and lives. The

Firefighters amid debris at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Wednesday, the anniversary of the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy in Kenya. (NY times)

Oklahoma bombing in 1995 left people “scared to death. [People] had no idea if everyone got out of [the] apartment building […] The blast left [people] homeless and without a car” (Oklahoma). Despite the fact that people weren’t injured or killed during this incident, their lives have been greatly affected. These acts provoke fearful emotions for the citizens, further causing them to be paranoid and scared from future events like this knowing that the presence of terrorists are around – exactly what the terrorists want.

The attack on 9/11 greatly affected America and our future goals. Because of this attack, not only many families physically lost a loved one, but also they got scarred emotionally which eventually led to a racist mentality shared, sometimes inadvertently, by many in our country. This caused President George W. Bush to call a “War on Terror”, his main purpose being “to fight against this fear we all Americans have now”. This fear that was easily struck into our daily lives prompted a radical and aggressive shift in American foreign policy, damaging our international reputation along with involving us in the departure of soldiers to fight in wars that didn’t provide anything beneficial in return. As a result of our country’s position on the matter, America’s lifestyle has completely changed nowadays.

We are forced to travel with fear of being attacked or a possible bomb threat on planes. The communication of emergency procedures has been much more efficient in order to keep the public aware of every possible danger. While Islam is the second biggest religion in the world, it is now considered a ‘dirty word’ followed by hate crimes and racial profiling. The right to privacy is being broken down to further tarnish America’s freedom (Anniversary). The acts of terrorism against symbolic buildings directly lead to a change in the nation involved, affecting its economy as well as their population.

The blaze at the airport in Nairobi caused a halt in all transportation along with other setbacks for the travelers and transporter of goods. “Nairobi is an essential hub for sub-Saharan passenger traffic, transporting 6.3 million passengers a year on more than 40 international airlines from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the rest of Africa. It is also a vital cargo link, particularly for the export of produce, cut flowers and other perishable goods from across East Africa — an important source of foreign currency” (Sudane).

Stranded passengers and onlookers gather after a fire disrupted all operations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on Wednesday Would-be passengers were left stranded (BBC)

This single airport plays a key role in the transportation of people for business or enjoyment along with transporting goods across the country. To be set back even by a couple of days could be detrimental to the time of the people and businesses. “Analysts said the quick resumption of international cargo traffic would probably minimize any immediate impact on the Kenyan economy” (Fox). This shows the importance of how a day fire can cause a large impact on the entire economy if the situation became any worse. To have an accident in an area greatly gathered with people proves to be inefficient for the public directly or indirectly related to the fire. “ ‘We have huge, huge losses due to the closure of the airport. We are getting a lot of cancellations from our clients,’ said Ben Ngunga”(BBC). Not only had this fire affected the schedule of the people travelling, but had also affected the business and reputation of this airport. The attack to either a monumental structure symbolizing the region, or an important building that the people need can create disorientation amongst the people.

In conclusion, we can say that whether or not we know that it was a terrorist’s intent to attack the Nairobi airport, we know that the thought of it being a terrorism act can cause an impact on society. A simple, non-elaborate, plan to fly a plane into the World Trade Center was able to throw America into chaos for years to come. An explosion in an apartment complex can leave people completely homeless and in shock for a long time. These large examples can further emphasize the danger and disorientation that could happen from a large-scale fire in a main airport. It is not the fires within the destruction that cause fear; it’s the idea that a terrorist group is in control of an event like that which causes fear. They can strike again, they can harm lives, they can change society, and they can instill fear into everyone.






“A flashback to Oklahoma City bombing” CNN,


The explosion in an apartment was able to leave not only many injured and dead, but also homeless and scarred for life. Knowing that this was not an accident strikes fear into the public that an attack could happen at any given time. Even in the safety of their own home, literally.


“9/11 Anniversary: 5 Ways America Has Changed Forever” Polymic,


The attack on the World Trade Centers was able to impact America for many years to come. This single attack was able to change America and our morals as a whole. Terrorism can cause a huge impact on the public.


“Kenyan airport reopens after massive fire” Fox News,


The fire occurred at the Nairobi Airport proved to show how unprepared they were to combat a large scale situation. The firefighters had not a single working fire engine in the area, therefore taking a long time to put out the fire. The fire broke out on the 15th anniversary of the bombings by al-Qaida of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.


Khushbu Shah,New fire at Nairobi airport after large parts destroyed in massive blaze“ CNN,


Although the fire was widespread within the airport, authorities claim that they managed to contain the fire during the occurrence. Domestic flights were continued in the afternoon. The cause of the fire is still being investigated.


Tribune, Sudan, “Kenya’s international airport in flames, travellers left stranded.” McClatchy – Tribune Business News,


Since no casualties occurred after/during the fire, the authorities do not want to speculate on the cause of it. Currently the committee is evaluating the situation to further continue operations.


“Nairobi airport closes as fire crews tackle blaze” BBC News,


Although the fire was contained, it took responders a long time to arrive to the scene. The closure of the airport which serves as a key hub for passengers from African countries destined for Europe led to several travellers getting stranded. This combination of lack of response and long wait serves to be frustrating for the public, questioning the future safety for the people.


Encyclopedia Entries


“Airport” Britannica Academic Edition,


Airports remain the main method for transportation of goods and people. This is why the requirements for modern airports became much stricter and sizes became larger. This is to accommodate the need of many people traveling by air while maximizing safety.


Scholarly Articles


“Airport Fires And Their Causes” Transportation Research Board,


Fires can happen from many sources within the airport, mainly from things that produce electricity or involve the use of fuel. These various factors can lead to the breakout of a huge fire. Fire is dangerous.


Orthographic Documentation


Ground Floor Plan
First Floor Plan
Nairobi Airport Master Plan

“International Bank for Reconstruction and Development

International Development Association” World Bank,


It’s a circle. Because everything is connected, this probably has a higher possibility for the fire to spread in comparison to many buildings scattered apart.


Video and Audio

“Fire at the Nairobi Airport” The New York Times, 1:01, posted by “Reuters” August 7, 2013


Raw footage of a huge fire that forced the closing of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on August, 7th. It shows how the fire was expanding and the attempt of the firefighters to control it. The cloud of smoke coming out was also obvious.

“Flights resume in Nairobi after airport fire” AFP, 1:36, posted by “AFP” August 8, 2013


Flights resume after a massive fire destroyed the arrivals hall at Kenya’s main international airport early Wednesday, causing serious disruption. It helps other people understand how this incident affected locals and travellers from all over the world, as well as the many airlines businesses operating within the airport.

“Kenya Airport Fire (Raw Footage)” BlueTechWorld, 1:02, posted by “BlueTechWorld” August 6, 2013


The large scale fire is noticeable from far away. This attention may be detrimental for the airport’s reputation along with the long amount of time it took for the responders to come.

“Fire closes Nairobi’s international airport, Sarah Kimani reports“ SABC News, 2:58, posted by “sabcdigitalnews” August 6, 2013

Reporter speaks of how the fire was being contained, yet the firemen do not have a working fire engine nor are the responders coming quickly enough. This fire occurring on the same day as the terrorist’s anniversary raises the question if it was intentional or if it is a flaw in the building itself.





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