The cooler temperatures of the advancing winter usher in another season, one marked too often by death and destruction. We are going through the most dangerous time of the year for home fires.
The recent tragic fire that displaced eight households in Yadi town, Mongar remains under investigation. There is no indication yet of what might have caused it.
Despite the Wamrong town fire, those that nearly wiped the entire Bumthang town on two occasions, and many more, our towns have remained prone to fire incidents. Given the lasting impact and heavy costs of such major disasters on the lives and livelihoods of families, there is a vast gap in investment in the prevention of incidents.
It’s time to really ask ourselves if we are doing everything we should to prevent fires. How can we make our towns a safer place when it comes to preventing these disasters?
Whether we admit it or not, many things that many of us still do practically constitute fire hazards.
We set electrical appliances such as rice cooker or water boiler on at home and leave for work. An electrical outlet is burdened with multiple devices irrespective of its capacity. There is always a butter lamp in the alter room.
Another thing many of us do is build our homes too close to one another. Or build where we shouldn’t. This does not only make it easier for fires to spread, it will also make it harder for firefighters to get to affected areas. This also makes evacuation from fire-hit areas more challenging.
While we cannot undo what is already done, we can dedicate an emergency water line for fire. Installing fire extinguishers at home for once is not expensive but refilling them annually could be expensive for the average person. Any incentive to procure and maintain them could go a long way in tackling this problem.
The quality of wiring in some of our homes can be better. There are safety and standards of electrical systems but when both the construction contractor and owners are looking at cutting corners to minimise costs, such important quality aspects of the building suffer.
Regular fire drills including the identification of fire hazards, an inspection of electrical wires and wood-burning stove (Bukhari) chimney in the buildings can be initiated by local town authorities or business communities. Landlords or residents have to be held accountable to fix faulty or risks.
At the household level, create a fire escape plan and practice it regularly. Designate escape routes and establish a meeting place outside.
Since the 2009 earthquake, we have held many mock drills across the country. Every child in school today knows ‘duck, cover, and hold’. But despite losing many homes and precious lives to home fires, we still have to rely on buckets and other utensils to combat fires.