14, April 2017
Nearly two dozen people have been killed in a fire that tore through a religious ceremony southeast of Senegal. Government spokesman Seydou Gueye said Thursday that the fire had engulfed a Muslim spiritual retreat in Medina Gounass village a day earlier, killing 22 and wounding several others. Local media reported that makeshift shelters and strong winds helped the fire spread, but there was no report on the cause of the incident.
A senior official with the firefighting service said the fire broke out around noon local time as worshippers gathered for the retreat, adding that some were hurt in a crush triggered by the blaze. Others said 20 of the injured were in critical conditions and were receiving treatment at the regional hospital in Tambacounda city, about 80 kilometers away.
Witnesses said all straw shelters constructed for the religious event were completely burnt in the fire and only modern tents were relatively spared from the fury of the flames. “The fire burned through everything in its path,” said a resident. Images circulated online showed billowing smoke, charred corpses of animals and burnt-out cars.
President Macky Sall held a press conference and offered condolences to the victims’ families. Reports said he was due to visit the site of the blaze later on Thursday. Senegal’s interior minister had already paid a visit to the site. Thousands of men from Senegal, Guinea and other West African countries attend the annual spiritual gathering in Medina Gounass.
A similar incident in the area in 2010 killed six people. Nine children were also killed in a blaze in 2013 in a religious school, prompting an outcry in the Muslim-majority Senegal.