Saturday, 6 March, 2021

How fire-safe are apartments in Kathmandu?


By Purushottam P. Khatri
Kathmandu, Jan. 23: A fire broke out in the 'A' block of Soaltee City Apartment in Rabi Bhawan, Kathmandu, on January 18.
After the fire broke out, those inside the apartment tried to get out, but in vain. Later, rescuers had to put out the fire from below and reached inside the apartment.
According to Nepal Police, 23 people were rescued from the apartment.
According to Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Kalimati Metropolitan Police Circle Apil Raj Bohora, the fire broke out from the third floor of the building and spread up to the 14th floor after the electrical wiring near the third floor got short circuit.
As fire spread from down, no one could open the main door and use the regular ladder, police said.
"We have rescued those trapped inside by extinguishing the fire by descending the main ladder from below," said Bohora.
Police said that no one dared to come out of the apartment although there was a fire exit door and emergency exit which could be opened only from inside of the apartment.
"Some of the larger buildings have large emergency ladders from the outside too, but Soaltee City has no such ladder to take out the trapped people," he said.
Manager of Soaltee City Apartment Surendra Karna said that the project was started nine years ago without any need for a ladder from outside. "We did not have a ladder outside the map of the building we have passed," he said.
“Furniture was placed in the fire exit ladder by the occupants of the apartment, so it made difficult to get out. It was not mandatory to have a ladder outside when we passed the map."
However, the occupants of the apartment have suspected negligence in the wiring and use of poor quality electrical materials.
However, the project manager claimed that the apartment was built without any compromise.
This apartment has not yet received a certificate of completion. However, about 280 rooms have already been sold. It was only about a year and a half ago that people started living in the apartment, and construction of one block is yet to be completed.
Although the construction of the apartment was intensified only after the Gorkha earthquake 2015, no government body instructed to put an emergency ladder in it.
The Valley Development Authority, Kathmandu Metropolitan City and the Urban Development and Building Construction Department had all turned a blind eye to the construction of the apartment against the rules.
Fire safety infrastructure mandatory
The incident of Soaltee City Apartment fire and non-compliance with the rules has once again raised the question of how safe other skyscrapers in Kathmandu are. The safety of the apartments was also questioned during the quake.
Chairman of the Nepal Land and Housing Development Association Minman Shrestha said that safety measures should not be compromised in any apartment.
"Every floor of the apartment must have a fire hose and a fire extinguisher," he said, adding, "there should be a fire exit from the inside and another emergency exit from the outside."
Even if the fire brigade does not come for some time for such an emergency situation, it is necessary to ensure that there is enough water in the tank of the apartment. Chairman Shrestha claimed that most of the apartments had security infrastructure.
He said that in case of a disaster in the apartment, options should be given to go down easily and that if such infrastructures were not installed in the apartment, it would create insecurity for the occupants.
Shrestha added that even if some companies use narrow ladders, it would be against the business dignity to do so.
Before buying the flat of an apartment, one should consider how safe the apartment is in case of fire and other calamities, he said.
Department says there is misconduct
According to the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction, the process of building apartments in Nepal began only in 1998 after the enactment of the Ownership of Joint Housing Act. The department claimed that even after the apartments were built, such problems arose due to the lack of proper monitoring and regulation.
Director General of the Department Nawaraj Pyakurel said that in the case of disasters like earthquake and fire, it was necessary to keep a ladder from outside so that everyone can land safely.
"While permitting the construction of such apartments, the structure may have been differentiated by showing one map to the government and another map in the construction site, so the department should do a field study on that,” he said. “Our attention has been drawn and we will intensify monitoring on such housings and apartments." 

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