The burning issue of fire incidents
In recent weeks, we have witnessed a spate of fire incidents rocking the country.
While the cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, three sawmills were completely razed to the ground while one was partially burnt in the fire incident in Haa on November 27 last month. It was fortunate that no casualties were reported during the incident.
And just two days later in the evening again, another fire gutted the agriculture marketing shed near the Centenary Farmers Market in Thimphu. Similarly, while the cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained and no casualty was reported, the fire burnt down more than Nu 1.4mn worth of goods.
These incidences are not the first one in the country. We have been witnesses to how fires in the past have ravaged whole towns like that of Bumthang and Wamrong, and even centuries-old historical dzongs and lhakhangs such as Taktsang monastery and the Wangdue Dzong.
Many homes and properties are destroyed by fire every year. It is tragic that in some cases lives have been lost as well.
At least fire incidences are nothing new in Bhutan. This is what is becoming or has become. History is abound with anecdotes of how some of our famous towns, fortresses, and villages in the communities have become victims to fire. Could they have been averted?
Further, fire incidences, especially forest fires, are the most significant threat to Bhutan’s forest and natural environment. The forest fires not only destroy thousands of acres of forest every year but also have effect on biodiversity especially through destruction of habitat causing the loss of endangered flora and fauna.
The loss of infrastructure and assets and risks to human livelihood due to forest fires has become a great concern. In 2017-18, 37 forest fires in 12 dzongkhags destroyed more than 16,000 acres of state forest reserve in the country.
Meanwhile, the causes of forest fires have been often attributed to anthropogenic activities, electric short circuits, agriculture debris burning, picnickers, cattle herders and often smokers. What is glaring is that a maximum number of forest fires were caused by human errors.
And fire incidents are more frequent in winters, especially forest fires. Despite the fact that thousands of acres of forest are lost to fire incidents every year, advocacy and awareness appear to be few and far between.
As we enter the prolonged months of dry winter, fire incidents are not only rampant but also severe too. Often windy conditions make fire fighting and containment efforts a mammoth challenge. And by the time the fire is doused, great damage is already done.
This is the time of the year that we need to be more careful and prepared. And we can at least begin by conducting regular safety checks and spreading awareness. Some simple precautions, therefore, can avert big disasters. Even being a little vigilant and mindful during the dry season would be worth it.