Zanzibar Fire

On the morning of February, 8 2006a fire broke out at the historic Post Office Building in central Stone Town. I was in the city that day.

This Post Office was built in 1906 and is a landmark in Stone Town.

My first awareness of the fire was the quiet. I woke suddenly, from a sound sleep at about 6 in the morning, because of quietness.

I realized the power was out, my ceiling fan was spinning to a stop, the rumble of the city beyond my room had momentarily stilled. Then shouts began in the darkness.

I got up and dressed. I could smell pungent smoke in the air, but not consistently, it seemed to come and go as it swirled thru the narrow streets, I could not tell its location.

I went downstairs and then passed through the heavy carved doors and into the street.

It was still quite dark but I knew the way, I started walking toward the harbor.

Once at the park near the Harbor I could see cars clustered around the tunnel that leads to the Shangani Area. That road, which goes by the old Post Office was blocked. I walked around the back of the fort and took the first alley south, heading toward the Main Street.

The smoke became stronger as I approached the Main Street and just as I came to the rear of the Post Office Building the alley was blocked by a pile of rumble, charred tin roofing sheets and burned lumber. The pile of Rubble was guarded by an Askari with an AK-47 who said the post office was on fire, no one could approach. My heart sank, was I see the loss of another piece of Zanzibar's history?

I doubled back and took another alley more to the north and then crossed the Main Street just the other side of the blockaded tunnel. I paralleled the street to the west thru another series of alleys in order to finally to come out on Main Street just above the Post Office. I looked up, the building still stood! In front of it were deployed two trucks of the Zanzibar Fire Department.

Bystanders reported that the fire started outside the building in a small lean-to like Shop that had been set up against the back wall of the Post Office. This shop sold food, including fried chips. I have seen the people there cooking, in large wok like pots; bubbling with hot oil set over an open fire, a huge danger in a congested city.

The fire began when they were starting breakfast, it almost immediately consumed the rickety shop. Flames then traveled up the southeast corner of the Post Office building seeking out every open window and even wicking up under the eves into the top floor turret room.

The Fire Department arrived with commendable speed and the men quickly set to work dragging the burning remains of the Chip Shop away from the Post Office. (This was the Pile of Rubble I had encountered earlier.) They then bravely entered the burning building itself and knocked down the contents of the flaming rooms before the fire could spread to the structural elements of the Building.

Originally designed to house the City's Police Station as well as the Post office this building was saved by the men of the Zanzibar Fire Brigade that February morning.

Battered, scorched but unbowed the Post Office still looms over main street just as it has for more than 100 years now. It opened for business the very next day after the fire. It's interior offices and the customer area on the ground floor were totally undamaged.

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