Strengthening municipal fire services can save lives and property hence municipalities’ capacities must be enhanced

An entire settlement was turned into ashes on Saturday night after a massive fire broke out at Madhuban Barahchhetra Municipality-11 in Sunsari. As many as 70 houses belonging to 46 families were razed in the blaze of this summer. Two persons got burn injuries in an LP gas cylinder explosion when they were trying to rescue belongings from their houses. The fire had started from a cow shed of Puran Chaudhary, a local, due to an electric short circuit. The fire then rapidly spread through the settlement, as cooking gas cylinders started to explode. Strong wind, which is a common phenomenon during summer in the Tarai, helped spread the inferno rapidly. The victims have been left in the lurch, as they are left with nothing except the clothes they had on their bodies. With the entire settlement lost to the fire, locals have moved into tents.

Incidents of fire are quite common in the Tarai during summer when it is windy and the mercury starts soaring. Wooden structures and thatched roofs make it easier for even a small fire to spread swiftly, resulting in loss of lives and property. The Tarai districts every year report numerous inferno incidents. Fire is a common hazard in Nepal after earthquake, landslide and flood. But despite this, there have been minimal efforts when it comes to fire disaster mitigation and preparedness. In this latest case of fire in Sunsari, there was no fire engine in the municipality. It took more than two hours for the fire engines to reach the incident site from Inaruwa, Itahari and Dharan. Amarlal Urab, one of the injured, said the intensity of damage could have been far less had the fire engines arrived on time or the municipality had one of its own. Sunsari Assistant Chief District Officer Anuj Bhandari estimated the loss of property to the tune of Rs 13.7 million.

With the summer season just setting in, Tarai districts are now more vulnerable to fire disasters. Even some Hill districts in the past have witnessed massive fires during summer. Though the government has been focusing on disaster management and preparedness when it comes to disasters like earthquakes, landslides and floods, hardly any measures have been taken for mitigating fire incidents and dealing with the situation in the aftermath. Fire hazards are yet to become the government priority. While there is a need of government intervention to mitigate fire risks, awareness among the general public is also must. In most of the cases, fires start either from the kitchen or electric short circuit or cooking gas cylinder leak or explosion. Hence there is a need of public awareness about the possibility of fires, especially during summer. Sunday night’s fire should once again serve as a wake-up call for authorities. This must compel a relentless campaign for safety of people and property. Fire causes significant loss of life and property every year in Nepal. Strengthening municipal fire services can save lives and property, hence it is high time technical, financial, managerial and institutional capacities in municipalities are enhanced. It is the state’s responsibility to make its people safer from various types of disasters, including fire.

A serious offence

A report from Sindhuligadhi said locals misused an ambulance belonging to Sirthauli Health Centre of Dudhauli Municipality, Sindhuli. The locals used the ambulance as if it was a private vehicle on hire. They paid Rs 5,000 and took it to Sindhulimadi to get a piece of land registered and to collect the government grant offered to quake victims. Ambulance driver, Bimal Magar, said he received a call from those people who took him to another place, instead of hospital. Magar said there was no patient to pick up. Seven people were travelling in the ambulance without a patient.

Misusing an ambulance is a serious offence. The persons found guilty of misusing the ambulance must face legal action along with a fine. Dr Sumitra Gautam of Sindhuli District Hospital said she was unaware of the ambulance being misused for other purpose than the job specified. The rule says an ambulance must be kept stand-by on the office premises so that it can be sent to pick up the needy. The driver, who knows what his duty is, should have reported to his senior at the health centre after he noticed that it was being misused.