This past week, there were at least three fires, two of which destroyed the homes of elderly persons. The victims were left very distraught at the sight of their homes destroyed by the fires.
In all of the cases there was a prompt response by the fire service. Significant losses however resulted.
A fire on Monday last on Durban Street left a pensioner and his grandson homeless. The building which was constructed of wood quickly went up in flames. No one was at home at the time the fire started and therefore nothing could have been saved.
On January 5, last, a two-storied structure in another section of the city was gutted. It was the home of two pensioners and their grandchildren. The fire reportedly started at the back of the upper flat of the building. Three persons were at home in that instance and escaped injury but nothing was saved.
Hopefully, all of the victims would have insured their buildings and would therefore be able to rebuild. If they have not insured their buildings, then this would be extremely unfortunate.
In one of the cases, it is suspected that in that case the fire was caused by children playing with matches. Children playing with matches have been one the chief causes of residential fires. It is time that consideration be given to finding alternatives to matches.
Gas stoves no longer need to be lighted by matches. They can be lit by instruments which give off sparks. This would be less dangerous than matches.
The other problem is that in many cases in which children have the cause to use matches, they are doing so unsupervised. It is hard to prevent such fires but if, from an early age children are forewarned about the dangers of matches, it can help to reduce the incidence of costly residential fires.
Greater public education is needed to advise parents and children about the importance of keeping matches away from children.
There used to be a time when the Guyana Fire Department used to visit schools and give lectures to children about the importance of fire safety. If these talks were discontinued or reduced, they need to be restarted or increased. From a young age, children should be warned about the dangers of playing with matches and about how to practise fire safety.
The risk of fires is being increased, also, by the lack of zoning. There is hardly any distinction these days between residential and business areas. Businesses are being allowed to pop up in what used to be residential areas.
The storage of goods, including combustible materials increases the risks of fires and its spread to neighbouring buildings. Of concern also is the establishment of eating houses without any adequate fire-fighting equipment.
The City Council recently announced that all businesses need to have sanitation certificates. There is, however, a greater need at the moment to ensure that businesses are certified as being in a state of readiness to fight fires. Not all businesses deal with food and therefore the need for sanitation certificates is unnecessary in most instances.
But there is a need to ensure that businesses have fire extinguishers and other fire-fighting devices installed.
Industrial activities are also taking place within some of the traditional residential areas. This also increases the risk of fires in those areas. Allowing industrial activities in residential areas is a disaster waiting to happen. Yet it is happening.
The absence of zoning is a pervasive problem throughout Guyana and which seems to have no end in sight. And having businesses, especially restaurants, within residential properties will always increase the risk of fire.
Fires cannot be totally eliminated but certainly their incidence can be decreased and the damage they cause can be reduced by effective zoning and improved fire-fighting capability.
Citizens need also to insure their properties against the unexpected risk of fires. Most fires are unexpected but they do not need to be unanticipated. People should insure their properties and possessions against the risk of fire loss. Yet, more often than not, people do not have fire insurance or the coverage is woefully inadequate to allow them to start over after a fire.
Fires cannot all be prevented but at least when they strike persons can be better prepared. Action to increase fire-safety education can help. The enforcement of zoning regulations can also help. But having fire insurance is the best defence against fires.
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