As we get closer to the dry season, reports of fire outbreak have started to come from across the country. More fire incidents are being reported these days posing huge threat and risks to lives and properties in various districts. On Sunday, four members of a single family were killed when fire broke out in Laljhoda of Jhapa district. On the same day, fire gutted houses of two residents in Tuwachung Municipality-5, Khotang. Thanks to the local intervention, they were able to prevent four nearby houses from catching fire in Khotang. With the end of the monsoon, fire incidents have been recorded in dozens of places of the district. A majority of fire incidents have reportedly occurred due to failure of people to douse fire lit for keeping them warm during the winter. However, we need to take what seems like sporadic incidents now as a cause to be alert. For every year, a number of people have been losing their lives and properties to fire outbreaks, some of them preventable.
In March 2018, at least 85 homes were destroyed in a fire that broke out at Batar settlement in Barahachhetra Municipality of Sunsari district. Villagers, including children, were hurt in the incident. And it had taken nearly five hours for fire engines, security personnel and local residents to put out the fire. In 2017, fire outbreak in Super Gas Industry in Birgunj claimed the lives of three firefighters. Likewise, in 2016, a total of 76 people lost their lives in the incidents of fire across the country. These incidents of fire should make us alert to be prepared for possible other incidents.
Our response to fire outbreak has been slow and inefficient. Fire brigades reach the incident sites usually too late by when lives have been lost and properties destroyed. Then the government announces some amount of money for the victims as compensation. Relief organizations distribute blankets and food packets. Promises (rarely kept) are made to offer government aid for rehabilitation. As a matter of fact, our initiatives to respond these incidents tend to stop right there. This approach of dealing with cases of fire outbreaks is flawed because our first priority should be about prevention and preparedness. It is true that majority of fire outbreaks are result of short circuit and mishandling of fire in the kitchen. In case of Khotang, the fire outbreak was attributed to careless handling of fire lit for warmth inside the houses. But even such incidents can be prevented. We have functioning local governments across the country. Ward representatives can play an important role in raising awareness as well as mobilizing rescue operations. Local governments need to form disaster preparedness and disaster response mechanisms and keel them functioning. This should not be a difficult task for many of the villages in Nepal are connected with roads. If we can keep our rescue teams on alert, many deaths can be prevented and properties saved. Winter is vulnerable season for fire outbreak. Our disaster preparedness authorities need not wait for tragedies to occur to respond. They need to remain prepared and alert.