Fire destroys 25 houses, leaves 180 homeless
from February 2002
three houses in Yangthang village, Bji geog, Haa dzongkhag, were gutted
by a fire which broke out around 4 pm afternoon.
to a dzongkhag spokesman, the fire was put off at around 1:30 am next morning
by the dzongkhag staff and members of the armed forces.
village has a total of 47 households.
fire wiped out more than half of Yangthang village in Bji geog on February
6, 2002 completely destroying 25 houses and leaving 26 families homeless.
The fire started at about 5.00 pm towards one end of the village and quickly
spread from house to house, fanned by a strong wind.
hours later, 180 out of the 361 people were homeless in the village which
had 49 houses, clustered close together. "I don't know how the fire started,"
said 61-year old Tashi Dem, owner of the two-storey house where the fire
began. Trying to save her valuables, she threw out the wrong box in panic
and jumped out of a first floor window about five metres above the ground.
She was the only one inside the house when it caught fire. Her five cows
and one horse were killed in the fire.
son, Kaka, who had been playing archery in a neighbouring village along
with most of the men from the village, rushed home to find the house reduced
53, was one of four men outside the burning house who shouted to Tashi
Dem to leave her belongings and jump from the window. "In about half an
hour, nine houses were on fire," said a soot-covered Kadi still awake 24
hours after the fire. When the second house, about five metres away, caught
fire, 26-year old Gaki tried to put off the fire. Dropping the futile attempt
she ran back inside the house and saved her child and 83-year-old grandmother.
Pempo, 52, was in the Haa town, about four kilometres away, when he was
informed about the fire. He rushed back in time to see his house crumbling
down. Rinchen Dem, with a family of 10, was lucky. The wind changed direction
when the fire reached her house. Camped at a safe distance from the village,
she is grateful for the "divine intervention" which saved her house and
200 army, police and IMTRAT personnel fought the fire which was controlled
at about 8.00 pm. The cause of the fire and the value of the property
lost are unknown. The Haa dzongda has established an investigation team
to look into the fire which devastated one of the largest villages in Haa.
- singed and blackened earth-pounded walls - stand in mournful silence
and the stench of charred wood and earth is heavy in the air a day after
one of the worst fires in the memory of rural Bhutan. Soot-stained
and tired-looking police fire fighters, soldiers and villagers are putting
out the sinders still smouldering in little pockets.
Along the bank of
the river, beside Yangthang village, children and the elderly remain huddled
in temporary sheds braving the chill of the Haa winter, the shock still
visible in their eyes.
These people lost everything: houses, food-grains,
clothes, jewellery, even animals. Some have lost invaluable heirlooms that
have been passed down for generations. "I can't believe it, I can't believe
it," says Thinley Dem, her voice a trembling whisper. Tears trickle down
her cheeks as she looks at the empty spot where she was born and had lived
for 81 years.
Fourteen year old Sonam Kezang, a Class VIII student of Katsho
Junior High School, recalls the moments during which the fire which roared
like a mad dragon, women and children screamed hysterically, men shouted,
cattle bellowed, and the wind howled with a shrillness she had never known
before. "I don't think hell could be worse," said Sonam. While the younger
people show signs of recovery, the elderly residents of the village are
hardest hit, shattered by their losses. For many of them the village was
their entire lives and their world. Some of the victims have not drunk
even a drop of water. Some have not spoken a word. Some are unable to control
their sobs. The scale of the tragedy is yet to be fully understood.
the loss of property was tragic His Majesty the King expressed his relief
that no one was killed or injured in the fire that destroyed more than
half of Yangthang village. His Majesty, who visited Yangthang village
after being informed about the fire, reminded the people that houses could
be rebuilt but lives could not. His Majesty granted a semso (condolence)
of Nu 50,000 to each of the 26 households rendered homeless by the fire.
His Majesty the King instructed the dzongkhag authorities to provide immediate
relief to the people, like temporary shelters, and free rations for three
His Majesty also commanded that the dzongkhag should clear
the ruins and draw up a good housing scheme to avoid such disasters in
the future and that the people should be given free timber for the re-construction
of their houses. His Majesty the King said that the dzongkhag administration
should do everything possible to help the people to recover from the tragedy
and to re-build their lives. The victims of the fire who spoke to
Kuensel said His Majesty's visit gave them hope, courage, and the stamina
to continue their lives. "His Majesty's presence and words of compassion
and encouragement have steeled our resolve to build a future again." said
75-year old Ap Jamyang. "I have no words to express my feelings,"
said Dago Dorji. "He is our true protector and the unfailing source of
article was contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2002