Barbaric Blazes

by Tasavur Mushtaq

Dreamhouse is a desire. But, owning a home is basic. Historically, a symbol of success and stability, building a home is beyond brick and mortar. It takes a lifetime to be able to provide the requisite conditions for making the house a home.

An average house involves a significant sum. But, no matter what the financial implications, the home ceases to be a financial asset. It is an emotional enigma, which at times takes the effort of generations. If Kashmir is an example, for most families, the house they live in is their entire worth. Lifetime saving. As they say, families in Kashmir have two explicit priorities in their life, house and marriage. They rest in peace after being done with the duo.

Home is the lodging of love, where an old couple retreats with confidence. The widow is veiled in its care. Children grow comfortably. Dreams are woven. Realities are faced. Difficulties are dealt with. Families flourish.

But, it is a loss to see a home being hounded by flaring flames. It takes years to clear the debris, both, emotionally and economically.

Disturbing Details

Amid multiple fire incidents, Kashmir in general and Srinagar, in particular, are sifting the ashes, almost every other day. As official data reveals, in the first 90 days of 2022, 660 fire incidents were reported in Kashmir. From engulfing property and belongings nearly worth Rs 350 crore, including 525 structures, 99 shops and 11 shopping complexes, the fire has caused death to at least 10 people.

In this scary scenario, Srinagar is surfacing as the major blaze centre. In the last three months, 143 incidents were reported in the city. The estimated loss is Rs 221 crore. Followed by Baramulla, where 108 fire mishaps took place, causing damage of Rs 20 crore, eight other districts,  Kupwara, Anantnag, Budgam, Pulwama, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Kulgam and Shopian have reported 81, 68, 45, 53, 50, 49, 39, and 24 incidents, respectively.

The private properties apart, 39 electric transformers also caught fire. There were also 10 forest fire incidents reported.

The Shocking One

One of the most shocking fire incidents was reported recently when a massive blaze engulfed Kashmir’s oldest and only dedicated tertiary care orthopaedic facility, Bone and Joint Hospital in Barzulla Srinagar. It was dark at the night, the flames started flaring. The patients admitted were motionless. The pain was to see them being shifted to the safer places. The entire government machinery was on the spot, but the fire did the damage, completely. Thankfully, there was no loss of life.

Earlier in 2012, the revered shrine of Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA) was lost in the flames. The government of the day tried their best to restore the shrine to its old glory and to a large extent succeeded with the help of INTACH. But, that essence of centuries is missing in the new structure. In another case, the culturally and the historically important shrine of Shah-e-Hamdan (RA) in Khanqah caught fire, but was doused before doing the major damage. Similarly, the dozens of shrines of historical importance are at similar risk.

In Jammu’s Talab Tillo, three firefighters were killed in 2020 when an old three-storey building collapsed during fire-fighting measures.

A Crisis

Fire is a crisis. It does not only steal properties, it is a serious threat to life. There is a need to take precautionary measures before being witness to the destruction. The first onus lies in the government, followed by the people at their own levels.

While major attention related to disasters is paid to earthquakes, snowstorms, floods and other similar events, disaster planning has often given little importance to hazards like fire.

First things first. The priority must be to have a fire and safety audit of the buildings. Besides, like other requisite parameters, any construction, commercial or residential, in and around the city should have mandatory fire safety clearance.

Revamp The System

The fire-fighting infrastructure requires a complete overhaul. Men and machinery need augmentation. The department should identify credible water sources in the city from where they can lift water to doze off the flames. Looking for the option at the time of crisis doubles the misery and leads to confrontation.  In an old city, where fire gaps are almost nil, a second can change the situation.

Besides, there is an urgency to put in place reliable safety measures. The high-tension wires in congested localities, closer to the buildings,  need relocation. Ideally part of the structure, fire-extinguishers should remain in working condition. A separate refuge space should be identified to shelter people in panic.

At the societal level, the first requirement should be to ensure the distress callers give the right direction and later street bravado should be avoided. This hampers the work of professionals. A normal in the city is to park cars on the roadside, this makes the situation more complicated.

A spark neglected is enough to burn the locality. The segregation of inflammable items at home should be done meticulously. The kitchen needs attention, and so does the equipment. Smokers can avoid the secluded places of their houses. In these dark times, it is important to attend to the candle when it is lit and then properly put it off.

In a single house in an old city, multiple families live and use almost all the gadgets. The wiring goes back to times when there was little use of electricity other than lighting and heating. This results in inappropriate wiring as per the agreed load and causes a fire hazard. It needs to be thought.

Like every average household pays for other bills, going for mandatory insurance cover should not be an issue. It could be a saviour. People who can afford may have other latest fire safety tools.

Watching a hard-earned home or business establishment go into flames is a nightmare. One of the nastiest things that could occur to anyone is a fire incident.

There is a need, both at an individual and institutional level to educate ourselves about fire prevention. System and society are required to chip in and save dreams being destroyed, mercilessly.

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