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Fire in Chamkhar - Choskhor Valley (Bumthang)
Chamkhar: Fire destroyed around 30 houses, leaving 173 people of 56 families homeless
Chamkhar Town 28 May, 2011

With last morning's Chamkhar fire victims suspecting foul play, the home ministry and the royal Bhutan police have announced a reward of Nu 50,000 to anyone, who can provide "concrete" information on the suspect.

"We've announced this because people don't come forward to support police openly," chief of police Brigadier Kipchu Namgyal, who was with the home minister in Bumthang, said. "The identity of the informer would be kept confidential."


The fire that started around 2:30am last morning gutted around 30 houses, leaving 173 people of 56 families homeless. Investigation will begin today and start with consultation with the people to gather information, according to police.

This is the third fire in Chamkhar town in less than two years, and many are suspicious if the fire was caused accidentally.

An eyewitness, whose family owns a shoe shop in Chamkhar, said the fire was first noticed around 2:20am by his mother. "My mother was shouting to wake us up, after she noticed the fire starting from the corner of their shop. "When I woke up, she'd already poured a few buckets of water. I woke up other members in the house and we put out the fire," he said.

He called the police to report the incident and was putting his children to bed, when he was disturbed by commotion on the other side of the row.

"Around 3:45am, another fire started between the Bhutan Post office and a medical shop below a shop selling religious items, Gedhen tshongkhang," he said. "There's no way a fire could start from that part, if somebody hadn't done it intentionally," he said. His shop was also razed.

According to the owner of Gedhen tshongkhang, Sither Lhamo, the fire was burning from below her shop when she woke up. "The room was full of smoke and we got almost stuck inside," she said weeping. "I couldn't even grab clothes for my children. We almost lost our lives," said the mother of three. The fire also destroyed eight units of the newly constructed houses after the second fire in February.

Meanwhile, reconstruction and kidu for the victims will be decided after the cabinet studies the damage report, according to the home minister Minjur Dorji, who is in Bumthang.

"We're yet to manage the victims of windstorm in 16 dzongkhags with 3,000 house, 65 temples and government structures damaged. This is the third fire incident in Bumthang and we need to look at it thoroughly on how to go about it," he said.

This article was contributed by Samten Yeshi , KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2011


For the sake of an illegal extension …
Chamkhar Town 4 June, 2011
One day too late? The new houses could have been saved if the structures were dismantled as planned

A row of newly constructed houses for Chamkhar fire victims would have survived the latest fire, which razed to ground 30 houses on May 27, if an extended structure of a shop had been dismantled.

According to residents, the extended part of a shop located behind the new houses had spread the fire to the new houses.

"Had the shopkeeper dismantled his structure, the line of new houses wouldn't have caught fire."

While the dzongkhag administration tried restructuring the town for fire safety, dismantling of illegal and extended structures were not without hindrances, said dzongkhag officials. While semi permanent structures were to remain, illegal and extended structures and temporary shacks were to be dismantled.

Dzongkhag officials said seven households, including the shop, had agreed to dismantle and rebuild their houses. "The drawings were ready too," said an official. "Since we can't force them to dismantle, we asked for their cooperation and consensus. We were waiting to receive their letter of willingness the day the fire happened."

The town committee and dzongkhag officials had dismantled some illegal structures in high risk areas but the extended structures were not.

"The extended structure were conjoined to the main structure and dismantling would have caused damage to the main structure," said an official. "Other extended structures, which aren't conjoined to the main structures were cleared."

There was also protests from the public, especially those whose main structure would have been affected. Some residents said they refuted the dismantling because the committee identified houses randomly. "It wasn't fair, since it was not applied to all illegal and extended structures," said one.

Meanwhile, dzongkhag officials and town committee members are discussing how to go about reconstructing the town yet again.

Her 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 to rubble.

This article was contributed by Samten Yeshi , KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2011
Chamkhar Town Choshkor Valley


Measures taken to avoid a repeat performance

Victims of Bumthang's recent fire incident will receive CGI sheets and royalty free timber, but they will have to construct their own houses.

Home minister Minjur Dorji, during a press briefing yesterday, confirmed the fire was deliberately set and that a team of eight police officials was investigating.

The government will design, prepare urban plan and develop the area for the victims, as was done for the victims of October 26, 2010 fire.

"We'll also provide water supply, drainage, road and electricity," he said.
To facilitate immediate reconstruction, two excavators have been deployed to clear the debris.
A dumping site for the debris was identified near Chamkhar bridge, where land filling is required for land reclamation.

Lyonpo Minjur Dorji explained that His Majesty built the houses of the first five victims in Bumthang as a pilot project for rehabilitation.

"It was to demonstrate a town structure to avoid fire hazards in future," he said.

With piles of combustible materials behind the main town, and the stream that runs from Jakar filled with debris, dzongkhag officials and Chamkhar town residents were asked to clear them thoroughly.

"If they don't clean it, risk of another fire is high," Lyonpo Minjur Dorji said. "Containing the fire would be difficult, as water pumps could be blocked."

With three fire incidents in the town within seven months, home ministry officials and police have worked out some measures to contain a fire in future.

Police chief, brigadier Kipchu Namgyal, said portable pumps are already sent.

He also said fire brigades would be established near the town to ensure effective and efficient mobilisation during emergencies, along with a water storage tank for fire brigades to be built above the main market.
A police outpost would be constructed in the market for efficient patrol.

Chamkhar town residents would be divided into groups of four to six, and a member from each household would be trained in fire fighting.

"We're going to provide them fire fighting dress with numbers on them, so we can keep track of the participants," police chief said.

The government had also allocated Nu 65M budget to purchase 19 fire tender trucks, which the home minister said, would be distributed in the dzongkhags.

"We'll also receive three fire fighting engines from Japan," Lyonpo Minjur Dorji said.

This article was contributed by Tashi Dema , KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2011
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