Old buildings play villain as fire rages

Although short-circuits are often blamed for the most fire incidents in and around Muscat, old buildings without proper maintenance are said to be the main culprits.
In some cases, unauthorised alterations in buildings intensify the severity of fire incidents as these illegal activities lead to lack of fire exits and block other safety measures.
The rising number of fire incidents at shops and residences in old townships in the capital areas brings home the fact that both the landlords and tenants do not comply with the advices of the authorities.
“Look at the condition of the building. There has not been any maintenance. Wirings are ageing and faulty too. If not the landlord, at least the tenants should think of their lives. Lack of safety precautions adds to the intensity,” an official who was at the spot of a fire incident in Ruwi, told Observer while pointing out the dilapidated condition of the burning building.
Data from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI) shows that a case of fire is reported every three hours in the country and 23 per cent of them from residential areas.
Most of the fire incidents are caused by faulty, counterfeit or ageing electrical items, including cables, according to an official from the Public Authority for Civil Defence and Ambulance (PACDA).
“Many of these buildings are built in the 80s. They have their flaws, not the least of which is old wiring that is becoming a fire hazard along with chances of getting electrocuted,” the official pointed out.
Normally the number of fire incidents increases during summer. But due to lack of safety precautions and recalcitrant and apathetic attitude of both landlords and tenants, the cases are on the rise irrespective of the season, he said.
According to the NCSI data, fire incidents registered a 35-per cent rise in 2016 as the total rose to 387 cases compared with 250 in 2015.
The official also reiterated that negligence and improper use of electricity are other reasons that lead to breaking out of fire.
“PACDA has very promptly been campaigning to create awareness about the hazard as a result of the negligent use of electricity at homes or commercial establishments. But both landlords and tenants have remained recalcitrant and apathetic,” the official said.
Muscat Municipality, on its part, has been cracking down on property owners and contractors for unauthorised alterations that impact the structural integrity of buildings.
According to Muscat Municipality Building Regulation Act, no alteration is allowed in the approved permit, drawings or any other official document unless prior approval is obtained from the department concerned.
“No alterations shall be endorsed unless signed and stamped by the department that issued the permit or the document,” stipulates Article 103 of the Act.
In a recent interview to Observer, Salim al Ghamari, Municipal Councillor from Muttrah, said that no alterations, external or internal, will be allowed without permission from the authorities.
“There is no meaning in blaming the civic authorities in the event of fatalities caused by illegal constructions. People’s lives are more important than buildings,” he said.
Alterations are said to have been made to umpteen number of residential, industrial and commercial buildings in Muscat without appropriate permissions.
The implementation of fire safety measures in a building should be a joint effort of the landlord and the tenant.
“Tenants should also check fire safety provisions of the building in which they wish to rent an apartment,” said Al Ghamari.
Though the municipality is not directly involved in checking fire safety systems in city’s buildings, it issues necessary licences only after clearance by the ROP’s civil defence unit.
Fire incidents are also caused by improper electric cable connections, lack of proper machinery maintenance, improper storage of inflammable liquids and short circuits.
According to experts, electrical fires can result from using counterfeit electrical gadgets like sockets, cables or circuit-breakers.
“Faulty and ageing wiring is one of the major causes of electrical fires at homes. These can be avoided by having regular checks carried out on the condition of cables, switches, sockets and other accessories,” pointed out a senior electric engineer in Muscat Electricity Company.
Professional and qualified technical contractors are not engaged for installing electrical works or repairing the faults, he added.

Samuel Kutty