By Fasika Tadesse
Both the source of the fire and the action taken by Addis Ababa Fire and Emergency Prevention & Rescue Agency (AAFEPRA) remain controversial regarding the oldest hotel in Ethiopia, Itegie Taitu Hotel. Despite the above, the hotel began giving services again on Thursday January 15, 2015.
The hotel was partially damaged by a fire accident that broke out from Jazzamba Lounge about 8am in the morning of January 11, 2014. The fire that began in the hotel, located at the heart of Piazza in Arada District, Addis Abeba, caused total damage to the Jazzamba Lounge, an upscale entertainment center considered as having one of the most popular live bands in Addis. It fully damaged United Bank SC while leaving partial damage on the hotel and the other businesses within the compound of the hotel.
“I have been informed from my workers that they called the fire agency at 8:30am in the morning as they noticed the fire accident,” said Ayalew Tadesse, general manager of the hotel. “The phone was not answered by the Agency for more than five minutes so our driver went to the Agency to inform of them and they arrived after 9am.”
The squad of the Agency arrived at the place at 9:10am, two minutes after they received the call from the Hotel, according to Solomon Mekonen, communication team leader at the Agency who denies they were called and informed the accident at 8:30am.
“It only took us two minutes to arrive to the hotel as our headquarters is located near Taitu,” stated Solomon.
The Hotel was built in 1907 as the first hotel in Ethiopia by Taitu Betul, wife of Emperor Menelik II, to provide guests a place to rest and dine. It has been serving food, accommodation and live jazz music. The rest of the compound is rented to United Bank S.C, Awash Insurance Company SC, Sky Bus S.C, Limalimo Bus S.C, Addis Tesfa Film Production, Jazzamba Lounge and ticket office and tour and travel agencies.
The fire damaged the Hotel’s reception and facade, while parts rented to United Bank and Jazzamba were fully damaged. Parts rented to the other businesses were also partially damaged including Awash Insurance and Tesfa Film Production. In addition to the building, two individuals were also injured by the accident and taken to a hospital. One of them is a 53-year old man whose forehead was burnt by the fire; he was taken to Yekatit Hospital. The other, a 41-year old man, sustained injuries to his face as he was hit by a nail while he was helping the team that was working on controlling the fire.
“Both of them are civilians who joined the team to help and they left the hospital on the same day after getting medical attention,” said a nurse from the Agency.
“The accident occurred due to an electric overload at the Jazzamba lounge, according to forensic inspection result,” said Haile Tsegaye (Ins.) representative of the Federal police forensic directorate of fire accidents division.
Result by the federal police is not totally acceptable for Ermias Fantu, general manager of Jazzamba Lounge that was working at the Hotel since June 2011. It hosts music with live bands. He claims that the lounge has lost four million Br worth of property at minimum because of the fire accident.
“The fire broke out from the hotel that is located behind our lounge and the federal police did not consider that during their forensic inspection,” claims Ermias. “On the eve of the accident, our sound man collected the electrical materials in the boxes as we were going to use the stage for cinematic purposes, so we left no plugged electrical equipment, plus the electric control meter was not damaged,” he told Fortune.
“We considered all of the options that could be the source of the fire accident but the evidence that we traced shows that the fire accident began at the lounge’s electric line,” said Haile.
But the management of the hotel refrained from commenting on the source of the fire saying they did not get the forensic result from federal police.
To control the fire, the Agency deployed 12 trucks with 60 workers and used 189,500lt of water to fully control the fire, which took two hours. But the process was continued until 7pm in the evening.
“After arriving to the place too late, even the Agency was reluctant to have coordination in controlling the fire and they were working in a disorganized fashion, which made things difficult,” claims Ayalew,
“We used to frequently notify the management of the Hotel to take care as it is highly exposed to fire accidents,” said Taye Dibekulu, president of United Bank whose bank faced total damage due to the fire accident. His bank’s losses are estimated to be close to two million Br.
The management is in the process of repairing the building by maintaining its structure as it is a cultural heritage, according to Ayalew.
“We are approaching architects to repair the hotel and we are also searching for coniferous wood that was previously used to construct the hotel, Ayalew told Fortune.
Currently, the hotel is owned by Fitsum Zeab, who bought it from the Privatization & Public Enterprises Supervising Agency (PPESA) some years back. Fitsum also owns Gulile Soap Factory, which he also purchased from the PPESA. Since Thursday, the hotel has been giving services on the part of the building that was not damaged by the fire accident, including the Vegan Buffet for which the hotel is famous.
United and Awash are also giving services through their other nearby branches as they are interconnected through core banking system for United and General Insurance Information System (GISS) for Awash.
By Fasika Tadesse