There is nothing like a fire mishap that could inspire disaster tourism. But, for Kozhikode, it’s not even news, for we find nothing new in it.
There had been around 500 fire mishaps in the city in the last five to six years especially in the busy commercial streets like S.M. Street and the surrounding Moideen Pally Road and Court Road. The fire in 2007 resulted in the loss of eight lives while those that followed in 2010 and 2012 resulted in heavy material damage. Apart from these there had been minor fires in these streets every now and then keeping the Fire and Rescue Services on the toes.
The heavy density of small shops that stock up to ten times their actual capacity is one of the major reasons for most of the major fire mishaps in S.M. Street and nearby areas, said Arun Bhaskar, Assistant Divisional Officer, Fire and Rescue Services, Kozhikode. The buildings are mostly wooden with congested small rooms and narrow staircases. These factors contribute to easy spreading of fire, which is not easily manageable. Besides the wiring is often quite old and there is always a chance for overloading, overheating or short circuit.
“A mere spark would lead to a huge disaster as the stock often consists of combustible materials like cloth, leather and paper. There is also the problem of waste piled up at various spots that may catch fire due to a lit cigarette or so,” Mr. Arun said.
Limited accessibility to the accident site, the roads being very narrow, is one of the major problems faced by the fire services in these areas. Lack of facility to refill the tanks is the greatest problem. The tanks could be refilled only at the Mananchira pond which is half a kilometre away, wading to where amidst the crowd is time consuming.
The need for fire hydrants in the commercial streets has been stressed at the time of every major mishap. There are three fire hydrants in the S.M. Street that were set up long ago, but are dysfunctional now. A proposal was submitted for more fire hydrants connecting S.M. Street, Moideen Pally Road, Palayam and Valiyangadi after the mishap of August 2012. The amount sanctioned (Rs.7 lakh) would be sufficient only to set up a pump house at Mananchira. At least Rs.15 lakh more is required for the project to be completed, Mr. Arun said.
“The fire hydrants are maintained with water supply round-the-clock at high pressure. It could be of great help in our situation to avoid waste of time in procuring water,” he added.
The fire department has directed the shop owners in the region to take precautionary measures like installing fire extinguishers, and fresh wiring, but to no effect. It’s up to the City Corporation to ensure that these directions are followed when they renew the licences of these shops to avert mishaps.