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EDITORIAL: This Kind of Fire Disaster Must Not Be Allowed to Occur Again

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AS MANY AS 24 children and two teachers were reduced to cinders when fire gutted the Quaranic Recitation School in Paynesville on Wednesday, September 18. The fire, according to reports, started at about 1:00 AM. When the children began to scream for help, neighbors thought they were being attacked by armed robbers, making them afraid to come out – of course the area is armed robbery prone. It was later residents of the community got to know it was fire.

TO DATE, THERE is no clue what caused the fire. The Liberia Fire Service and the Liberia National Police say they are still investigating.

MR. HENRY WILLIAMS, Head of the National Disaster Agency, said the victims were between the ages of 10 and 20 years. “We don’t have any idea about the disaster now. We don’t have any evidence of what the cause is but what we can say presently, we have 26 that are already dead and all the 26 are all male, only two instructors and the rest are students between the ages of 10 and 20 years.”

PAYNESVILLE MAYOR E. Pam Belcher-Taylor and team upon receiving the information rushed on the scene of the incident to sympathize with the bereaved families and the Islamic Community.

THE TRAGIC FIRE accident drew a scene of sorrow, empathy and mourning among residents of the community, especially the Muslim communities as well as sympathizers, onlookers and relatives of the victims.

AT THE REGULAR Information Ministry press briefing on last Thursday, the Chief Investigator of the Liberia Fire Service Agency, Col. Robert Holder, warned Liberians to desist from constructing structures in the alleyways to enable the free movement of the Liberia Fire Service in case of a fire disaster.

“MOST OF US HAVE built into alleyways, built on roads and other places that we have no right to start construction. For those reasons, it is uneasy for the fire service to access those areas when there is a disaster. Stop building in the alleyways because in case of fire disaster, the LFS will not be able to reach you in time,” he said.

ACCORDING TO THE Chief Investigator of the LFS, the team had to connect eight of a 50ft long hose to reach the building only because their vehicle could not access the alley. He also mentioned that when they had finally made their way to the building, they noticed that it had a really tight entrance.

“IT HAD AN IRON GATE and the building was poorly constructed but we were able to burst the entrance open. We fought to bring the situation under control but all of our fight led to no result,” Holder said.

WHILE IT’S EASY to call on the government and authorities to work on disaster preparedness, given the situation — the way settlements are scattered and based in different remote locations — it will always be difficult to stop the incidents of fire completely. Measures to prevent or reduce the likelihood of fire must be taken in first place. Then come response and recovery. 

NOW IN THE AFTERMATH of the disaster, governments at all levels must set their priorities right and work in a war footing to ensure that this kind of fire calamity does not repeat itself. This can be done by ensuring that new and emerging communities and cities adhere to layout designs and avoid building structures where they do not belong.

WE MUST NOT WAIT for another catastrophic incident before seeing the dire need to carryout awareness about fire and the dangers of violating zoning laws.

WE MUST ALSO be discreet as to where schools, markets, churches, mosque and other public facilities that host a large number of people at a given time are constructed.

WE BELIEVE THAT if Liberia would surmount some of these disasters and challenges, there must be concrete actions taken by both the government – ensuring that laws are enforced to the letter and the citizens – being law abiding for the safety of all.

WE ALSO CALL on the Liberia National Police and the Liberia Fire Service to speed up with investigation into the last Wednesday’s incident as parents whose hearts are already heavy are yearning to know the cause of the fire.

NOT ONLY WOULD they have a sign of relief and justice when this investigation is completed, the outcome would also help in general in knowing why precautionary measures to take to avoid a reoccurrence.

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