Screaming for answers

The picture above, taken by Bhutan Today, shows victims of the recent Chamkhar fire huddling around their possessions.

Look at that picture. It should make you feel grateful. The picture shows that the residents were able to save at least some of their belongings from the fire that engulfed entire houses. They seem to have rescued clothes, mattresses, blankets, tables, carpets, pots, cupboards and even a bukhari from the fire that destroyed 33 houses. Given the tragic circumstances, we should be grateful for that.

Look at that picture again. It should now make you feel frustrated. The picture shows that the fire could not be controlled even though so many people had the time to rescue so many of their belongings.

Most of the houses in Chamkhar town stand in a line along the main street. So it would have taken time for the fire to spread from one house to the next. It did – that’s why the residents could save so many of their possessions. And yet the fire could not be controlled, not until it reached a three-storied stone structure that prevented it from spreading further.

So why couldn’t the fire be put out earlier? Because Bumthang has only one fire-engine, a second-hand truck manufactured in 1998. What’s worse is that that fire-engine can carry only 10 minutes supply of water. In fact, at full blast, that fire engine uses up all its water in just 5 minutes.

The fire fighters actually almost bought the fire under control during its early stages. But their water ran out. And, because Chamkhar town has no fire hydrants, they had to leave to replenish their small stock of water. That’s when the fire went out of control.

Look at that picture one more time. It should make you angry. The picture shows that, in spite of the two earlier fires, we were not at all prepared to fight this fire.

About a year ago, in the Parliament, during last year’s budget discussions, and before the first Chamkhar fire, I had requested the government to increase funding for our fire fighting programmes. I had argued that our fire fighters need more and better fire-engines. But I had also proposed that, if the government could not buy new fire engines immediately, they should at least buy water tankers to support the existing fleet of fire engines.

Bumthang’s aging fire engine was no match for the three Chamkhar fires. But with support from a simple 9,000 litre water tanker they would have probably been able to control the fires before they wrecked so much damage and suffering to the people of Chamkhar.

Today, the government is trying to find out who caused the fire. The residents are convinced that the fire was not an accident. So they want to catch the person who set their town on fire. The perpetrator must be caught. And be bought to justice.

But the government has so far ignored another, perhaps more important, investigation. They need to find out why, after repeated warnings and fires, they had still not equipped our fire fighters adequately.

Look at that picture. It’s screaming for answers.


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  1. Well, I for one expected it. Remember during the Chukha accident where the river washed away a lot of boys, we were not prepared, so I thought maybe they might spend some money and train a better equipped rescue team and provide them with rescue equipments. But no, a year later, a person dies in Thimphu Chu, below Samarzinkha because he was stuck inside a car and we did not have trained manpower or proper equipments to save him.

    Instead of spending money on prados and foreign tours we should set our priority straight. We should learn from mistake, not repeat it. History is only kind to people who learn from their mistakes. Even George bush says fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on myself.

  2. i just wish government has so much money to buy many fire-fighter, probably 10 numbers each in every dzongkhaag…….And i wonder what is going on in chamkhar???????…three times within short period of time!…something is really wrong!

  3. OL,
    Such times are not good for pointing fingers and blaming each other if you are a really concerned citizen.
    It speaks a lot about what u are really inside beneath your outer phony sincere and concerned look.

  4. Palden,

    OL didn’t do that during the last two fire accidents. But when the government refuses to learn from mistakes and refuses to listen to others, I think it’s appropriate for him to bring the issue to the forefront and to public’s notice.

    If the government has money for CDG, McKinsey, and repeated pay raises, we can surely afford to buy more fire engines.

  5. We either have some really bad people or some dangerous evil spirits in Bumthang—or Bumthaps are unbelievably careless.

    Something is truly strange with that place. One might even be tempted to think that the local deities are not happy with what’s going on in that otherwise peaceful valley. Perhaps the local deity who nearly killed Sindhu Raja in the 8th Century is again mad with the Bumthaps. Guru Rinpoche came to our country to save Sindhu Raja. Perhaps all these strange and unfortunate tragedies in Bumthang will again lead to something really good for our nation.

    But now let’s get serious. I felt really sick and mad watching the news about 3rd Chamkhar fire on BBS. Sick and mad with both Bumthaps and our government. Why can’t our people learn from our mistakes; why can’t they be more careful. If the fire was caused intentionally by some people, they are the mentally and morally unfit and sick people in our society. How can they cause so much loss and sufferings to so many people for their personal reasons? The fire could have also killed people—luckily that didn’t happen. I am also mad with our government for not learning from mistakes and for all the reasons mentioned by the OL.

    BUT, I felt more sick and mad with the never ending forest fires last winter. Almost everyday, hundreds and thousands of acres of our beautiful forests—our precious national treasure—were being destroyed by fire. Our Honorable Agriculture Minister and PM remained quiet and indifferent. And all our government did was telecast that stupid forest fire prevention ad on BBS. Are they that stupid or are they lazy??? Forest fires are not caused by people who sit in front of TV and watch that advertisement.

    The mere thought of losing more precious forests to fires this coming winter breaks my heart. Also the environmental harm caused by forest fires may be a lot more serious than all the smokes from the cars in our country.

    I beg you, our government, please do something about it!!!

  6. 3 times in short span of time……really some thing is with bumthabs; agree to OL. Sorry for the victims who lost their belonging in the hands of greedy. But isn’t it a mistake of our Govt. at first place because, govt. should look into the problems of our people who are in need and provide kidu BUT BUt but… not to the extend of reconstructing the entire house. Govt. should have let it to be constructed by themselves ratherthan engaging our poor army to construct. if govt. going to construct houses then it should be whenever there is in every part of the country. ……people might have purposely set the fire coze..a new houses are being constructed by govt. plus an insurance can be claimed so both way benefited.
    i find its the govt. mistake for the cause of fire accidentin bumthang…………

  7. It really screams for answers and demands assistance. The issue here pertains to how government invests. It’s time now that we invest wisely. Government should also look at procuring more number of fire-engines than impractical spending on Prados, land Cruisers and many more foreign import pool vehicles.

  8. This is a sad situation. I agree with you Tshering. It is now time to think big. And take adequate measures to put in place basic tools to combat such situations. Disaster Management should be a priority in Bhutan. We must not take it for granted. We must reprogram resources to procure and institute basic systems in place.

  9. Dogchok-gi-dokchog says

    Wai, don’t blame the Bumthaps! Most of the people who own the shops are not Bumthanps and definitely the people behind this mishap must be recent migrants from other dzongkhags. If we start blaming eachother, we should then ensure that Bumthang is only for Bumthaps and Paro only for Parops. TUBGA!!!

  10. Relax.. there won;t be any intervention to stop anything… we are allergic to being proactive and in some cases even to react to a situation means accepting that perhaps they should have done earlier.
    of course, there is no fund…. when it comes to disaster management or concerns raised by the people.
    They know all – so only things that get approved are the ones that come from our mighty government and their well qualified MPs. We have millions of dollars to pay people who tell us the same thing that we have been saying for years….
    Oh well, at least the Minister’s enclave is safe…. otherwise imagine…OL the next banner should be a picture of the enclave and how majestic it looks over looking our capital !!!

  11. Straight drive says

    From the picture, I can just take a deep sigh. It is not a sigh of relief but a sigh of sorry and worry. It is indeed a sign that people there have been selfish. They might not have bothered about stopping the fire that was blazing another house but bothered only about their belongings. Now is real aspect of theory of survival of fittest.

  12. donnydar says

    Every ones responsibility , not only govt. we the citizens have to help eachother to solve such issues. don’t blame eachother, if really concerned means work towards la, no one will charge any one in helping…
    its very disgusting,,need to investigate very carefully and have to find those victims/culprits.

  13. Was it the government who employed Army and help first Chmakhar fire victims to rebuild there shops?

  14. Sorry…there=their!

  15. Hi YPenjore,

    Good point. We need to retroinspect the actions of our elected leaders.

    If it wouldn’t have been His Majesty’s command and our Army’s actions, I am sure that the Politicians would still be happy blaming people for their faults for the first fire incident.

    It was His Majesty who himself supervised the comforts being distributed to the victims. I may be wrong,correct me, Was there any politician present in Bumthang looking after the people for the duration longer than His majesty?

    We are blessed that we have patronage of our beloved Kings otherwise the Assembly is full of people who were and are more interested in catching and punishing the poor citizens rather than planning for their betterment.

  16. pem tshering says

    Everything happens for a good reason. There may be several good reasons with the third fire in Bumtha; one of the reasons because being we can now build an entirely new town there with new houses. It must be done with proper planning and ensure that it is able to maintain its image as the cultural heartland of this country. Almost all the earlier constructions were very much prone to fire accidents, and somehow, it was bound to take place sooner or later.

    Let us now plan and ensure that Bumtha gets the much needed face-lift, and stop brooding over what had happened already. At least nobody had been burnt to death, and we must thank Kenchog Soom and the deities of the palden Drukpa for that.

  17. wondering says

    When Bumthang did a Bumthang for the third time within an unreasonably short duration for such tragedy to occur, unlike rest of the commentators here, my heart did not go out to the so Called “VICTIMS”. It irritates me that these lots of people despite two damaging experiences in the past have still not managed to instill a sense of community into their heads. i am irritated because incidents such as fire can be avoided, stopped if strength and mind were put together. i look at the pictures in the media and it makes me more irritated…if people managed to save bulky things like furniture and amount of things they have saved, why couldn’t they put their mind and body together to curtail the fire….or where they just simply watching for their buildings to burn down so that government or whoever can build them new ones.

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