By Allan Brian Senyonga
It is almost as if one evening, all our parents walked to a field and sat under this big tree where they unanimously agreed that the best way to extinguish a child’s curiosity about fire is to let them touch that flame and learn. That first touch not only told us what a fire felt like but also cemented our resolve never to play with it. Those acrobats that play with it are not normal and we know that.
Uganda has witnessed so many fires in the recent past that instead of learning not to play with it, we seem to have just learned not to take it seriously. The week started with shocking images and footage of the iconic Makerere University main building (not Ivory Tower) engulfed in a horrific fire that devoured its insides for a whole night and some more.
Many of us have been around to witness a spate of fires that ate up several hospitality facilities that had gone for that signature grass-thatched look. Then the fires moved to schools and devoured primary, secondary, private, and public schools without discrimination. At Budo Junior, young learners’ lives were snuffed out. It was a very sad day but also another day when lessons were left there in the classroom.
From schools, the fires moved to markets and in this episode, St Balikudembe (Owino) and Jinja Central market seemed to compete, and Owino market won hands down as the place that got burnt so many times and yet the Fire Brigade was so close by. Mattress industries where the fuel for the fires was more than guaranteed were not left out. The hottest day in the country’s history is the day the Kasubi Royal Tombs, a UNESCO Heritage site, joined the list of places that these fires have had on their menu.
With all these fires, our Fire Brigade often does a weak job of trying to stop the fires if they are not slow to respond then you will hear about the fire engines arriving without water or running out of water so quickly. With the Makerere fire the image of fire fighters trying to push an old Mercedes Benz truck was as disturbing as the one of the first trucks that could not pump water up to where the flames were coming from. By the time the trucks with a crane showed up the fire had already won.
Ideally, these big fires would result in the Fire Brigade getting state of the art firefighting equipment, a robust investigation and report on what caused the fire, how it was handled, and most especially what needs to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again or that if it does, we are better prepared for it. If only our government viewed these fires in the same lens as the citizens that demonstrate then more training and equipping of the fire brigade would happen and quickly!