Another fire struck this week, ironically gutting yet another prison facility – this time in Rubavu District. By press time yesterday, the death toll had risen to five, with detectives yet to ascertain the cause of the fire.
The fire outbreak at Rubavu correctional centre, which also wounded more than 60 inmates, came barely a month after another fire – blamed on electric fault – destroyed Muhanga correctional centre.
Earlier, successive fires gutted various business premises, schools and entertainment spots in different parts of the country, most of them in the capital Kigali.
Besides loss of lives, as was the case on Monday, properties worth billions of Francs have gone up in flames, dealing a huge blow to the owners who often lack insurance cover for their businesses and buildings.
Rarely have detectives found these fires the work of arsonists, with most investigations pointing to electric circuits. These incidents have exposed our vulnerability with regard to fire response mechanisms, with fire fighting vehicles of ten coming from very distant areas, especially in Kigali.
Surely we can do much better.
First, the ministries of Disaster Preparedness and Infrastructure as well as local governments and other concerned actors need to ensure that fire safety measures are understood and strictly observed during construction.
Basic fire fighting tools, such as extinguishers and smoke detectors must not only be installed in every public building but be regularly serviced to ensure they are in good working condition.
Fire exits with clear signs must also be mandatory. Also, owners, employees and those manning public facilities need to understand how these devices operate.
Furthermore, it is important that wiring is done professionally and checked routinely.
Businesses also need to insure property to minimise losses in case of fire outbreak.
Every member of the public too needs basic fire safety knowledge. Everyone needs to observe fire safety measures and raise the alarm immediately after a fire has broken out.
Most importantly, the government should decentralise firefighting mechanisms and tools to, at least the district level, to avoid costly delays when fire strikes.
These are capabilities that every district needs as soon as yesterday.