Choki Wangmo

February 22, Debsi—After a phone call with her only son, Kezang Deki was relaxing inside her hut. Loud noises outside cut her siesta short. She ran outside; huge flames were about to engulf her tiny home. Still in her inner skirt, she wobbled around trying to save her belongings which she had collected over 15 years.

It was too late. She narrowly escaped the disaster. Volunteers dragged her to safety.

The 76-year-old moved to Debsi from Nganglam 15 years ago. She saw Debsi grow into a town from a remote village. The third fire incident razed her dream of owning a proper home in Thimphu.

Until Kezang Deki can build a temporary hut, she is staying with a woman in the neighbourhood. The woman, a hypertensive and a diabetic patient sleep through days and cries at night. The fire burnt her 33-year-old son on the same day.

Dema (name changed) and her family were on a family outing in Paro. Her brother stayed home in Debsi. He returned a few weeks ago from a medical treatment in Kolkata. Dema video called her younger brother on Messenger at 12:31pm. They missed the calls for the next few minutes. By 12:38pm, she got another call—her younger brother was burnt to death.

The death certificate says he suffered third degree burn and died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Dema couldn’t deliver the news to her mother. She told her mother: “… he passed away from complications at the hospital. Which mother can bear to know the truth that her child burnt to death?”

“The media reported that he slipped into the fire. If not for his bravery, the houses in the neighbourhood would have been burnt down too. I feel a huge loss in my life,” said the sister.

On March 8, the family conducted his 14th day ritual. Grief hangs heavy in the house, heavier than the burnt smell outside.

The youngest brother of the family escaped narrowly. He is still suffering from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The fire burnt more than 1,000 acres of forest, killed four people, and left many with untold losses.

The authorities say the cause of the fire is still unknown. Residents saw sparks from electric wires at three different places start the fire. The fire that started like a pit fire quickly turned into a monstrous flame, devouring everything on its way.

The victims on March 7 filed a case against  the Bhutan Power Corporation with the police. The police refused to take up the case, saying that it was not a criminal case. The victims are now going to the court.

“We are not expecting any compensation. But there is a need for accountability in the system. We want to live in a safe place,” a victim said.

Residents raised the safety issues to the authorities in the past. “During heavy rain and snowfall, we see electric sparks from the electric lines,” one said.

Residents say that as a responsible authority, the Department of Forests and Park Services should take a legal action against the defaulters. “They should be investigating this case.”

Many house owners have started cutting down trees near their houses to reduce the risks of fire.

The place looks deserted. The residents are worried about their safety in the future. “The fourth fire outbreak might kill more than four people and burn thousands of our forest resources. We can’t cry and talk about what ifs after every disaster,” a resident said.

The waterpipes in the area were brunt too. Dema is struggling to get water for the rituals.

Debsi falls under the dzongkhag administration, but then “we got no words of solidarity from the leaders,” she said. “It is really saddening.”

The dzongdag and dzongrab were at the site during the incident.

“If not for His Majesty’s kidu, we were helpless,” she added.

The dzongkhag provided residents with five bundles of water pipes.

“Of what use are pipes without a water supply?” a resident said.