A fire on Tuesday gutted 13 houses in Changzamtog, Thimphu. People who lived in those houses that are no more could salvage nothing pretty much because they weren’t there when the incident occurred early in the evening.

This should come as a strong reminder of danger that our towns are increasingly being exposed to. Almost every two years, we witness makeshift houses and camps succumb to fire. And quickly, rather very conveniently, we blame it all on electric short circuit and let the matter there to rest.

All is not right the way we build our society. For why, in the first place, should mini settlements be let to grow that are fast taking the shape of urban slums? Certainly these small development features don’t fit into our grand image of a welfare society.

There is something seriously wrong in the way we pursue development and share our prosperity. Our words and promises do not match with reality. And this is sad.

Makeshift settlements are highly vulnerable to fire hazards. And for many reasons, indeed. Electric connections in such settlements are mostly done unprofessionally, to say nothing about the kind of materials people use to build their little havens and cozy little domiciles. There will, of course, be cases of short circuit.

What is appalling is, however, the ease with which we let, or rather encourage, the growth of many settlement built with highly combustible materials. Interestingly, we have makeshift houses mostly around places of high regard and importance. And the houses are built close to each other, sometimes separated only by a thin cardboard.

We are building challenges, instead of reducing them. Firefighting becomes a costly affair when houses are intricately built together, to say nothing about awkward terrains and vastness they spread on to. We have a very effective firefighting department, but that gives us no reason to rest assured.

The real picture is this: wherever in our society there is concentration of power and prosperity, there grows myriad small shacks. What juxtaposition indeed!

Such spectres will continue to haunt us again if we are not serious about the kind of development we aspire and work for. If we can think about danger fire poses  to our heritage and cultural sites like dzongs, we should be really very serious. We cannot blame short circuit all the time. We, each one of us, must be able to blame our negligence.

But the loss would just too great. That’s why we should stop blaming short circuit and act as we must to make our settlements safe.

It is high time that we had a law that disallows growth of temporary shacks. Or else, there should be strong regulations to make sure that safety is maintained absolutely. Well, let’s look at how we are growing really, physically, emotionally, and spiritually as a society.

Let’s summon some courage to laugh, and also to cry, at our own hypocrisy. Why do fire continue to haunt us?