On April 7, a farmer at Dangroli village in Bhopal district lost 25 acres of standing wheat crop to a fire.
This is not the first such incident in a rural area, nor will it be the last one.
In the last two months alone, there have been 80 incidents of fire in rural areas in Bhopal district.
Rural areas in the state have always been at the mercy of fire services, which are based only in urban or semi-urban areas.
While fire services maintained by urban bodies have to essentially operate within their administrative limits, they are pressed into service in adjoining rural areas for want of dedicated fire services in these places.
Sajid Khan, fire officer, Bhopal Municipal Corporation, said: “We send our firefighters for tackling blazes in rural areas though our mandate for firefighting is within municipal limits.”
Bhopal is a relatively smaller district and tenders are able to reach fire sites easily.
However, in larger districts that are primarily rural and have fewer urban bodies, the lack of fire fighters is felt more acutely.
For one, urban firefighters find it difficult to reach the site of a fire purely based on the name of the closest village.
While firefighters can approach a fire site in urban areas with confidence, a blaze in an agricultural field is difficult to tackle as the firefighters might not be aware of the roads that will lead to the fields.
Second, fire tenders are not equipped with the Global Positioning System (GPS) and even wireless systems installed in fire tenders work in the frequency allotted to the municipal corporation and not on the police frequency, leaving the firefighters with no option but to take directions from the informant.
“At many places in rural areas, mobile phone services do not work, leaving us with no option but to take directions from people along the way. Fires in agricultural fields spread rapidly and valuable time is lost while taking directions that may or may not be very accurate,” said Deepak, a fire tender driver in Bhopal who often responds to fires in rural areas.
Third, tempers are usually high when fire tenders reach the designated spot, leaving the firefighters to face the wrath of villagers who are upset at the time taken to reach the site.
“Getting water refills for the tankers is also a problem as there is no electricity in rural areas on most occasions,” said Gulab Gurjar, a farmer from Dangroli village.
Urban firefighting infrastructure just about caters to the needs of urban citizens and are spread thin in summer months when fires in rural areas common.
There are 22 fire fighters, four tankers and seven motorcycle-based firefighters in Bhopal but other urban bodies have much fewer firefighters and usually one or two vehicles.
“There should be a dedicated firefighting service for rural areas. The entire crop is lost at times owing to fires in agricultural fields that spread rapidly, giving less time for response than fires in urban areas,” said Gurjar.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has carried out a fire risk and hazard analysis classifying districts as very high, high, medium and low risk categories.
In Madhya Pradesh, 32 primarily agrarian districts with large rural populations are classified as medium risk while Dhar and Indore are classified as very high risk, while Bhopal, Ujjain, Jabalpur and Gwalior are classified as high risk areas.
When asked if there were plans to set up dedicated firefighting systems in rural areas, Sanjay Shukla, commissioner, urban administration, said: “The state has 378 urban bodies, which means there is an average of about seven bodies per district. In case of fire in rural areas, panchayat bodies can request for firefighting systems from urban bodies on payment.”
Difficulties in dousing the flames
While firefighters can approach a fire site in urban areas with confidence, a blaze in an agricultural field is difficult to tackle as the firefighters might not be aware of the roads that will lead to the fields
Fire tenders are not equipped with GPS and even wireless systems installed in fire tenders work in the frequency allotted to the municipal corporation and not on the police frequency, leaving the firefighters with no option but to take directions from the informant.