By Nancy Nais
KUCHING, Jan 2: The number of longhouse fires over the past years in Sarawak has decreased slightly.
Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) recorded a decrease of 12.5 per cent, from 24 cases in 2018 down to 21 cases in 2019.
A total of 26 cases were reported in 2017.
The total losses were estimated at RM13 million (2019), RM26.6 million (2018) and RM15.3 million (2017).
In the fires last year, 229 out of 435 (66 per cent) ‘pintu’ were completely destroyed, while the remaining 206 were saved by fast-thinking residents who used either fire extinguishers or any source of open water to douse the fire.
Based on the department’s investigations and statistics, most fires were accidents caused by human negligence such as short-circuits triggered by exposed wiring or usage overload (7), cooking utensils (6), unmonitored cooking (5) and open fire such as candles or kerosene lamps (3).
An example in one of the cases was a small fire that started in the kitchen from an unmonitored lit stove.
Within minutes, the fire burst into flames and traveled quickly throughout the longhouse, growing to a spiraling vortex the size of the communal gallery.
Flames erupted out of the longhouse appearing like a fluttering red bird.
Too late to save the longhouse, villagers stood outside in the scorching heat of the flames, watching in horror as their shelter for more than 200 people burnt down to nothing.
The villagers lost almost all of their possessions, money, and ancestral heirlooms and were rendered homeless.
While the worth of burnt property could be estimated and perhaps replaced, the value of human lives can never be replaced.
Last year April, a handicapped woman was burnt to death at Rh Candi Sg Tau in Selangau.
Although the statistics may have decreased after the department’s intensified fire prevention and community engagement efforts, Bomba Sarawak director Khirudin Drahman said the department will not ease its efforts.
“We have been and will continue to move aggressively from one place to another, urban and rural communities, with our fire safety awareness and prevention programmes.
“As I have repeatedly said, Bomba will constantly take on the ‘precaution, prevention and protection’ (3P) approach as this can help to prevent more serious cases involving fire, which usually starts small and the 3L elements (‘lupa, lalai, leka’), hoping to reduce the number of cases until zero incident can be achieved in the future,” Khirudin said when contacted.
This year, the department will expand its programmes further into remote rural areas where longhouses are located far from fire stations.
“We will double up our efforts to create champions within the communities. We need to work harder than last year to change the community’s mindset to curb fire catastrophes,” he said, adding that this includes children.
He highlighted that the department’s success was also made possible with joint efforts with the state government in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), summer camp with Sabah-Sarawak Gas Pipeline (SSGP), BOMBA Komuniti with local state assemblymen and non-governmental organisations especially Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) and Pertubuhan Wartawan Bebas Kuching (Pewarta).
Meanwhile, the department also recorded a whooping increase in open fire (forest, peat soil, plantation, bush) last year.
In 2019, they recorded 2,637 cases involving some 39,305 acres of land, an increase of 65.6 per cent as compared to 2018.
On Aug 10, 2019, they handled 63 open fire cases within 24 hours.
The open fires were believed to have been caused by the hot and dry season, and intentional burning by local farmers and plantation companies for agricultural purposes. — DayakDaily