The fire in Hazaribagh that left 11 people dead, more than 15 injured and some 3,000 people directly or indirectly affected, seems to have been a disaster waiting to happen. Though investigation is underway, the fire was possibly caused by cigarette butts, mosquito coils or a kerosene stove, its fierce spread aided by drums of kerosene on the way. The stampede to safety left behind women, children and the elderly, who were the victims.
Irresponsible behaviour of leaving sources of fire hazards alight throughout the night set it off. Congested, unplanned shanty housing, let alone fire escape routes, prevented the getaway of its inhabitants. Lack of knowledge about what to do in a disaster situation as well as the inability to escape resulted in some victims taking shelter in the washroom and kitchen. The alleged delay of the fire brigade in reaching the location allowed the fire more time to spread; two and a half hours of fire fighting when they got there retrieved little in terms of life or property.
The blame can be placed on manifold factors, but preventive actions must be focused. If an analysis of the situation reveals anything, it is that we are thoroughly unprepared to face disaster situations. Our city planning, the citizens' level of awareness, the preparedness of rescue forces all contribute to such predictable, and thus preventable, tragedies.
Though the losses of the residents of the Hazaribagh slum and adjoining tin-shed houses cannot be compensated adequately, we hope that this will come as a stern wake-up call to our city's residents as well as to the authorities in terms of measures to prevent such disasters and to tackle them when they do still unfortunately occur.