Prime Minister to personally expedite new town plan 

Disaster: In less than an hour, 81 shops in Sarpang town were razed to the ground by a fire on February 15.

The remaining 51 shops escaped the inferno because a parking space separated them from the row of shops that caught fire.

Most of the shopkeepers at Sarpang Taar, located about a five-minute drive away, had closed their shops and left for home when the fire broke out.

Of the 81 shops, 49 belonged to Indian merchants.

One of the shopkeepers, Bishal Gupta, 32, said that the fire started from his shop. Bishal Gupta, who owned a general shop, said that around 8pm he closed his shop to have dinner in a restaurant located adjacent to his shop. A short while later he saw flames over the roof of his shop.

“I have no idea how the fire started, but in a fraction of second the fire became bigger and uncontrollable,” he said. “My shop was recently built, made of planks. It was windy and that made the matter worse.” Within no time the fire spread to adjacent shops.

All the shops were temporary makeshift huts partitioned with plywood and woven bamboo mats.

The fire occurred between 8pm and 9pm.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. However, many said that the fire could have been caused by power fluctuations.

A forty-year-old shopkeeper said that there were frequent power fluctuations in Sarpang since the afternoon. “When the fire started, it was quick and made me nervous. I didn’t know what to do,” the shopkeeper said. “Everything is razed, we’re back to zero now.”

Saprang dzongda Dawala said that about twenty shopkeepers took shelter at their relative’s and friend’s places on the night of the incident. The dzongkhag administration arranged temporary shelter at the dzongkhag’s multipurpose hall and provided basic necessities.

“The police are still investigating the cause of fire,” he said.

Bhutan Power Corporation in-charge, Tashi Wangdi, in Sarpang said the power was shut down by 5:20 pm to change to the new commissioned line.  Tashi Wangdi  explained that BPC upgraded the power capacity in Sarpang from 11Kv to 33kv recently.

On the night of the incident BPC tried to charge the transformer, which converted 33kv power to 11kv for electricity supply to the town.

“We could not charge because the circuit breaker could not be closed,” he said. “When the fire broke out, power was still shut.”

On hearing about the incident, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay headed to Sarpang the same night. He visited the site in the morning and met with the shopkeepers, the majority of whom lost all belongings in the fire.

Lyonchhoen talked with the victims about how to move forward and on how to prevent such disasters from happening again.

He also visited the new town location at Seychathang. He told officials that he would personally take initiatives to expedite works at the proposed new town site.

“Master plan of the new town is ready, we’re working on water and electricity supply,” dzongda Dawala said.

Meanwhile, Royal Insurance Corporation Limited (RICBL) officials said both RICBL and Bhutan Insurance limited (BIL) had approached the shopkeepers several times, encouraging them to get their shops insured.

“None of them came forward,” a RICB official in Sarpang said.

Army, police, desuups and students were involved in fighting the fire.

By Nirmala Pokhrel