Rising fire incidents in Achham blamed on negligence, shortage of fire enginesThere are 10 local units in the district, but only Mangalsen has a fire truck.
Two children died when an animal shed caught fire in Darba settlement in ward 3 of Mellekh Rural Municipality in Achham district last Wednesday. According to the District Police Office, the six-year-old daughter of Nanda Budha and three-year-old son of Jagat Budha died in the inferno.
There were three children playing in the shed belonging to Ankit Budha when the incident occurred at around 5pm. It is learnt that the children had skipped school and were playing in the shed where hay and dry grass were stored. When it started getting dark, they brought a matchbox and started playing with fire, and suddenly the whole shed caught fire. One of the three children managed to escape unhurt, but the other two burnt to death, said police.
Hikmat Budha, the chief administrative officer of Mellekh Rural Municipality who reached the scene of the incident, said that there was a delay in the rescue and fire control efforts because the fire was massive and nobody knew there were children inside.
“There have been a couple of incidents of arson and fire caused by small children unknowingly in the past years, but this incident was the first with human casualties. Incidents of fire by children occur due to a lack of awareness among parents about keeping fire-igniting tools such as matchboxes and lighters away from the reach of children,” said Hikmat.
The Mellekh Rural Municipality has provided compensation of Rs25,000 to each family of the dead children.
“Incidents of arson and massive fires are very difficult to control even with timely information, especially in remote and rural areas due to difficult topography, a lack of water sources, and the absence of fire trucks,” Hikmat added.
Fire incidents occur every dry season in Achham, a hill district of Sudurpaschim Province, causing a huge loss of life and property. However, the local units and other authorities concerned are always caught unprepared. They are not well equipped and do not have trained human resources to deal with fire incidents.
One month ago, a man from Sanphebagar Municipality was also killed in a house fire. The fire that had started from the kitchen engulfed the house and an animal shed, killing the man, a cow, and two goats.
There are 10 local units in Achham. According to Rajendra Saud, information officer of the District Police Office in Achham, Mangalsen Municipality is the only local unit in the district that has a fire truck.
“In the district, most of the fire was caused by people warming themselves in a bonfire, cooking, carelessness of children, and electrical short circuits. Rescue and fire control efforts are delayed due to the shortage of fire-fighting resources in the district,” said Saud.
In May, 2022, a 50-year-old man of Netakot in ward 5 of Ramaroshan Rural Municipality of the district was killed in a house fire, and his rescue and control of the fire were not carried out on time due to the absence of fire engines.
According to the District Police Office, in the past two years, 39 incidents of fire have been registered, and most of them were in rural areas. Similarly, the fires destroyed more than 45 houses and injured more than 40 people. In the current fiscal year, three people have died in separate incidents of house fires.
Stakeholders have complained that all three levels of government—federal, provincial and local—have failed to come up with any disaster preparedness plan.
A natural disaster management committee has been formed under the leadership of the chief district officer at the district level and a similar committee functions in each local unit to control various natural disasters, including fire. But their efforts to control fire incidents have so far been ineffective due to a lack of necessary trained human resources and equipment.