On February 24 this year, at around 2 AM, a devastating fire broke out in Uri town of north Kashmir, destroying more than 50 shops and godowns in one go.
The fire, which started from a double-story building, engulfed rest of the nearby shops and godowns in a jiffy. The fire could not be controlled because of unavailability of required fire tenders in the area. Earlier, on January 26 , a historical Jamia Masjid in Bijhama, also in Uri was gutted in the frontier area.
The fire incidents like these get worse and the damages are huge but the district administration is in a deep slumber as there is only one fire tender catering to 90 villages of geographically difficult terrain with a population of more than one lakh people.
The local traders blame the government for “callous” approach. According to Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, Secretary Beaopar Mandal Uri, the non-availability of fire tenders is the major reason for huge damages in fire incidents.
“There is only one fire tender for more than 90 villages of two Tehsils — Uri and Boniyar — which is not sufficient for such a huge population. It is almost half of the district Baramulla. We have requested authorities time and again for more fire tenders but every time our requests fell on deaf ears,” Lone said.
Earlier, this year when the Uri main market was gutted it took hours for fire tenders from Baramulla and Sangrama to reach the spot (around 50 km) in order to bring a fire under control.
Locals in the town say they had also requested for separate fire tenders at Sheeri, Boniyar and Chandanwari so at times of fire disasters the damage could be lessened but till date, they did not receive any reply from the authorities.
Authorities agree there are grievances but they are hopeful of betterment of the resources and infrastructure.
“First time we have drafted a disaster management plan at subdivision level. In new disaster management plan, we have included fire tenders of NHPC and Army in the infrastructure list so at time of any mishaps we can take their help”, SDM Uri Dr Sagar told Kashmir Wire.
The administration says a new land has been identified at Boniyar tehsil that will cater to the needs of the area of subdivision Uri and few areas of Baramulla.
“We have identified a new land for Boniyar tehsil and submitted the proposal to the divisional commissioner. That will put off the load from Uri fire department”, SDM Uri added
Another problem that the department faces is lack of a water reservoir. During mishaps, the fire tender has to travel to far off nallah to get the refill.
“If not the callous approach of administration then what it is, the lone fire tender which caters to more than 1 lakh population, in such situations is supposed to get refilled from a nearby Nallah which is few kilometers away from main market Uri as there is no reservoir for refilling of fire tenders”, says Gulam u Din, a trader from Uri market
Fire and Emergency Department has no space to keep the lone fire tender at Uri market. They park it on the road. During the time of emergency, they first have to clear the road to give way for the fire tender to rush to the affected spot
“Yes due to encroachment the road used to get blocked by hawkers but we regularly make sure road is cleared”, says SDM Uri
An official in the district Fire and Emergency Department who has served in Uri office says on condition of anonymity fearing the backlash from his superiors that Uri sub-office has many problems but department never addresses them.
“From parking space to additional fire tenders and reservoirs the department needs a complete makeover there. The fire tender at Uri is not fit to cater the geographically difficult terrain. Those vehicles do not have a proper reach so a smaller vehicle could prove helpful to the mountains area”, says the officer.
Reacting to this, Deputy Director fire services Abdul Khaliq Wani says Uri is a vast area and caters to difficult and different terrain and says the department has proposed to the government for more manpower and infrastructure.
“Yes, it is a grave issue, on 48 kilometers stretch there is only one fire tender. We have proposed two new fire service stations at Sheeri and Boniyar in a recent meeting. Once they are sanctioned, it will solve the problems of areas,” Wani said.
About the sanction of small vehicles, Wani says if requisition comes, we can put it across to higher authorities. “We have similar smaller vehicles for Rajouri and Karnah terrains,” he said.