Urmi stood helpless, with henna applied freshly on her hands, on the street as she saw her home coming down in a massive fire. “God didn’t show any mercy on us,” lamented the 19-year-old bride-to-be.
Only a few minutes before, she was sleeping in her bedroom. Now, the fire was razing down her neighbourhood. With her home, she lost jewelry worth lakhs and other items her family had purchased for the wedding next month.
On 1 April, at least twenty-two houses were gutted in the blaze leaving thirty-seven families homeless in Noorbagh Gata Colony of Srinagar. Urmi’s family is among them.
“Till last week I was the happiest person,” she said, gasping for breath. “Today I’m only apathetic about my situation.”
Kashmir has been witnessing frequent fire incidents in 2022. In the first three months of this year, 660 fire incidents have taken place in the region, as per the data provided to The Kashmir Walla by Fire and Emergency Services. Of the total, 155 incidents took place in Srinagar, the summer capital.
The data further suggests that property — 525 structures, including 99 shops, and 11 shopping complexes — worth 35.72 crore rupees have been damaged in the fire incidents.
But with monetary losses, the biggest loss is perhaps of home. Bashir Sheikh, Urmi’s father, worked as a sweeper under the Srinagar Municipality Commission before he met with an accident three years ago that left him bedridden. Though Urmi’s brother took up his father’s job, she took the responsibility for herself and her 18-year-old sister Bazilla to get married.
Fifteen years back, Urmi’s family had put the ceiling on a six lakh rupees loan. “We are still paying the interest on it,” she said. Working in a factory at a Rangreth on a meager salary of 4000 rupees per month, Urmi said she collected pennies for a year to secure money for her sister’s marriages.
“We had bought copper (worth one lakh rupees), jewelry, and clothes, but everything was gutted in the fire,” Urmi said. “We have postponed the wedding.”
Apart from her father’s medicine, Urmi said that they couldn’t save anything when the fire broke out.
Speaking with The Kashmir Walla, Deputy Director Fire and Service Emergency Bashir Ahmad Shah said that the electric short circuit in summer and the dumping of coal in the attic during winter are the two main causes of the fire incidents in the valley.
“People must be very aware while dealing with electricity and coal. Most of the fire incidents are happening because of these two particular reasons,” Shah said. Srinagar is a congested place, Shah added, the impact of fire causes more damage to the properties here than in the rest of the districts.
“[In Srinagar] most of the houses don’t have fire gaps. That is why if one house catches fire it spreads like a chain causing more damage,” he said.
Like Urmi’s family, their 65-year-old neighbour Abdul Rashid Sheikh spent a lifetime building his dream house to provide his family the comfort.
Sheikh said that they couldn’t manage to rescue a single piece of cloth after the fire broke out but what they were wearing.
“The fire spread within no time. We had to run for our lives,” he said. “Everything was reduced to ashes.”
Mohammad Jabar, another local who lost his house in the fire, said that all the families who have lost their houses belong to the poor family. “None of [families] belong to a rich family to come out from this disaster. All our hopes are pinned on the relief from the government,” he said.
All 37 families have been provided 1,85,000 rupees each from the Red Cross as interim relief to the fire victims.
According to the district-wise data, 45 fire incidents took place in Budgam, 68 in Anantnag, 81 in Kupwara, 53 in Pulwama, 24 in Shopian, 49 in Ganderbal, 108 in Baramulla, 39 in Kulgam, and 50 in Bandipora district.
In a similar incident, on 14 March, nine houses were gutted in an overnight blaze at Sheikh Hamza Colony in the Batamaloo area rendering 21 families homeless.
President of the Mohalla Committee of Hamza colony, Abdul Rashid said that apart from getting 5000 rupees per family from the administration no help has come on their way to suffice the need of the distraught families.
“What would we do with 5000 rupees? It can’t even buy milk for the newborn,” he said. “We don’t even have uniforms for children to send them to school.”