Tue, 21 Mar 2000

Negligence blamed in most fires: Official

JAKARTA (JP): A fire official warned residents on Monday to be careful in handling inflammable items in their houses because most fires were caused by people's negligence.

Head of the City Fire Agency Suharso said most people did not realize that sparks from unattended items, such as lit cigarettes and stoves, could lead to fires.

"In many cases, outbreaks of fire were caused by smoldering cigarette butts and stoves, as well carrying out activities near an inflammable substance."

He urged residents not to steal electricity and follow proper safety procedures when installing electrical appliances as part of their fire preventive measures.

Suharso said the state electricity company PLN should promote safety measures among the public.

"When fires caused by short circuits are reported, the company usually argues that power installations have been carried out in line with the procedures."

But he added that inspections revealed that many residents had their power lines illegally connected to nearby electricity poles without the company's knowledge.

"It is very dangerous and fires often ignite from that kind of connection," he said, referring to rampant electricity theft, especially in slum areas.

He said there were 124 fires reported in the first quarter of the year in the capital.

"The figure shows that there is virtually no single day without a fire in Jakarta."

There were six fatalities, including four domestic helpers who died in a fire in Simpruk, South Jakarta. They died in their room from smoke inhalation and burns.

Two others were severely injured in the fire.

Suharso also appealed to police to provide protection to firefighters while carrying out their duties. He said firefighters were often obstructed in their tasks by residents who wanted them to concentrate on their homes.

"Four of my men were beaten up by emotional residents recently," he said.

In outlining preventative measures, he said contractors of high-rise buildings should meticulously plan fire prevention and escape systems, such as installing fire detectors, sprinklers, hydrants and firehoses that could reach all parts of a floor, as well portable extinguishers.

He said most state-owned buildings did not comply with City Regulation No. 3/91 on fire prevention.

"If we all abide by the regulation, the risk of fire outbreaks could be reduced up to 90 percent." He added that only 500 of the city's 1,000 buildings met the fire safety requirements.

The City Fire Agency employs 2,446 people and is equipped with 132 fire engines.(06)