UPDATE 1-Fire destroys main market in Malian capital Bamako

Fri Mar 21, 2014 11:40am EDT

(Adds prime minister's comments)

BAMAKO, March 21 (Reuters) - An overnight blaze at the main market in Mali's capital Bamako destroyed around 2,000 shops, causing millions of dollars in damage as fire crews struggled to access the site and hydrants malfunctioned, residents and fire officials said on Friday.

No one was killed or injured in the fire at the market, known as the Marche Rose, or pink market, officials said. Authorities were alerted just before midnight on Thursday but have yet to determine the fire's cause.

"Once on the scene, we faced difficulties including access. There are no access roads into the market. Then the market's fire hydrants were not connected to a water supply," fire brigade commander Adama B. Diarra told Reuters.

Speaking on state-owned radio, Mali's Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly indicated a failure to respect the country's fire safety code had hindered efforts to contain the blaze.

"Armoured vehicles from the gendarmes had to be called in to free up access and allow the firemen to do their job. The market was totally blocked," he said.

Market fires are a relatively common occurrence in West Africa. The Marche Rose was the fourth Bamako market to catch fire in the past six months. The city's kola nut market burned to the ground this month.

Local merchants told Reuters they suspected an electrical short-circuit may have been to blame.

"It doesn't surprise us ... There are electric wires everywhere," Sadian Mariko, a senior member of the market's merchants' syndicate said.

"Nearly all the shops have burned. I don't have an exact figure, but there are more than 2,000 shops. The losses are in the billions (of CFA francs)," he said.

Mali is recovering from several years of crisis marked by a rebellion in the north, a military coup and the occupation of the northern two-thirds of the country by Islamist militants, who were driven out by a French intervention last year.

With international financial backing, the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected last year, is seeking to restore economic growth and rebuild the arid West African nation. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Sophie Hares)