The unfortunate June 24 Wangdue Dzong fire could have been easily combated had there been safety measures in place well in advance. For instance, just a few meters of an emergency motor able road around the Dzong could have been a blessing in disguise under such situations.
There is no doubt that incidents of this kind will recur overtime if we still fail to draw any lessons.
The Wangduephodrang Dzong, now burnt to the ground is a lucid reminder that we must take strong measures to prevent future accidents in other parts of the country for we have many such monasteries and Dzongs at similar strategic locations and landscape.
It is a shame that we lack the capacity to protect our centuries old historical monuments when our fore fathers could take the pain to build them with no knowledge of technology or advanced engineering,
It’s about time the government invest something on fire safety from whatever funds it has as most of our historical structures including the Dzongs are located on ridges and mountains making rescue and firefighting operations impossible.
Aerial firefighting where aircrafts or other aerial resources are used to combat wildfires seems to be the only choice considering the landscape of our country. The west calls it ‘waterbombers’ or ‘air tankers’ that can use chemicals including water, water enhancers such as foams and gels, and specially formulated fire retardants that can contain fire.
It can of course be expensive for Bhutan to purchase such equipments but it’s always worth investing in disaster management.
The other cost effective remedy could be constructing motor able roads around each and every Dzong or monastery in the country. This will provide access for fire brigades and emergency personnel to the accident site.
The first few minutes of a fire are crucial in containing it so we need to make sure that our national structures are fitted with fire alarms. Automatic fire alarm systems such as smoke and heat detectors are particularly useful in spotting fires during times when occupancy in the building is low like our Dzongs.
Fire extinguishers are only useful if they work, so regular checks by the fire department should be mandatory. The government needs to consider installing automatic sprinkler systems in all the Dzongs since they are difficult to access and evacuate in times of fire. International studies have revealed that automatic suppression systems lower the cost of damage by 60%.
Emergency exit doors are a perquisite in any massive structure as it makes rescue operations much easier. While our Dzongs with its high walls historically kept away threats, we must not forget that it keeps away firefighters today.
In many monasteries and even homes butter lamps can be a major fire risk. The government should come up with regulations and rules to ensure that all major monasteries have proper safety codes and facilities to in the use of butter lamps. For example offing the lamp at night, using tin sheets under the lamps, ensuring wind protection etc.
The rebuilding of Wangdi Dzong could be a golden chance to ensure that we build Bhutan’s first Dzong that is virtually disaster proof with all proper safety features.
When the government is ready to invest millions in new structures such as the mega projects the safety of our centuries old mighty structures should also be given priority.
The writer is a reporter with The Bhutanese