Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lack of Proper Equipment Hampers Burma’s Firefighters

The Irrawaddy News

Lack of money and effective equipment is hampering Burmese local authorities tackle an increasing number of dry season fires.

The official government newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported a total of 96 serious fires had broken out in Burma in January.

Fires so far in February include a blaze on Tuesday that destroyed a plastics factory in Rangoon’s Dawbon Township and a disastrous one on February 22 that swept through Kyaut Oe village in Sagaing Division, destroying 85 homes. The 649 villagers left homeless by the blaze are being sheltered at the local monastery.

A forest fire that began last week in a northeastern border region of Burma has spread into neighboring Chinese Yunnan Province, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. More than 200 hectares were ablaze, the agency said.

More than 3,000 soldiers, armed police and villagers were marshaled to fight the fire in the border county of Tengchong. The firefighters dug a 10,000-meter ditch on Sunday to keep the blaze from spreading, but a combination of strong gales, dry weather and mountainous terrain made their work difficult, Xinhua said.

Of the 96 serious fires registered in January, 74 were caused by kitchen accidents and negligence, 14 by electrical short circuits and six by arson. There was one forest fire.

The New Light of Myanmar report did not say whether there had been casualties.

In 2008, more than 5,000 houses, 15 factories and workshops and 30 warehouses were destroyed by fire, according to official statistics. More than 17,000 people were made homeless.

Firefighters in Burma are hampered by a lack of such essential equipment as extension ladders and fireproof clothing, according to fire department officials.

The country has 217 fire stations. There are an additional 328 auxiliary fire stations, which rely on donations from local communities. “If you want the firemen to put out the fire, you have to give them money”, said one source.

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