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The usual suspect in a house fire

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elect15jan13Whose fault: In the recent labour camp fire the meter box was intact

Spurious goods, no monitoring, and user carelessness, all contribute to its occurrence

Short Circuit: Of the 63 reported house fire incidents in the capital in the past five years, 19 were caused by short circuit or other electrical defects, records maintained by the fire services division indicate.

But what is a short circuit and what leads to it?

A short circuit generally refers to a short cut taken by electric current to reach its final destination.  This happens because of bad wiring or defective appliances.  Taking this short cut leads to overheating and malfunctioning.  But sparks in a switch and socket box because of a loose connection is not a short circuit.

The manager of the electricity services division in Thimphu, Thinley Dorji, said short circuit usually occurs due to negligence from occupants. “Our responsibility is to distribute the load to the households, after the city corporation/municipality approves the internal wiring of a house or building,” he said.

Although the municipality approves the initial plan, there is no mandate requiring regular checking of internal fittings, Thinley Dorji said.  He also said the miniature circuit breaker (MCB), widely used these days, should be properly functional to break a short circuit.

The recent fire incident at the labour camp near Changlam Plaza was also credited to a short circuit. Bhutan Power corporation’s investigation team found out that the meter box, where BPC’s jurisdiction ends, was intact.  This means that the fire was caused by defective appliances within the camp.

The head of standardisation at the Bhutan Standard Bureau, Chewang Rinzin, said that this indicates negligence on the part of the inmates in the camp, or lack of servicemanship in those who installed the system, or the contractors who did not comply with the standards set out for appliances.

The Bhutan standard bureau (BSB) has a set of approved brands for plumbing, electrical and other materials like steel, cement and tiles, which are mandatory for public constructions.

Private constructions are spared strict compliance because some items do not have direct relevance to safety.  This was also done with the assumption that people won’t compromise with the quality of their building.  The BSB is in the process of making mandatory use of certain items, which have real safety implications, such as reinforcement steel, cement, and electrical cables and switches for private constructions.

The approved brands include quality brands from India and multinationals.  Chewang Rinzin explained that standards are applied to materials and work specification. “When it comes to materials, it isn’t necessarily a problem of lack of standard, it’s a problem of trade practices,” he said, citing deceptive trade practices.

Most of the goods in the market are spurious, and such practices can be controlled at the source if the trade department, intellectual property department, revenue and customs and BSB take a collaborative approach, which is absent at the moment.

When it comes to installation, it becomes the duty of the building owners to follow specifications, and not just leave it to the contractors.

On familiarising the public on spurious products, Chewang Rinzin said that it has become challenging for BSB, as features of both genuine and knock offs become inconsistent, with new models entering market frequently.

Captain Ugyen Wangdi, OC of the Thimphu fire brigade, also said that almost all of the fire incidents concerned with electricity happen because people pay little attention to repairing and maintaining their electrical wires, sockets and appliances.

“Simple precautions like installing standard cables and appliances, and frequent checking should be taken by the people,” he said.  Thimphu sees the highest number of house fire incidents, and the station has a total of 53 firefighters and 11 firefighting vehicles, including two rescue trucks.

By Sherab Dorji

One Comment to “The usual suspect in a house fire”
  1. temparabgey | January 15th, 2013 at 13:14:14

    There’s your Indian “world class” technology for you. Just like Wangdue Dzong which managed to survive four centuries of invasions, etc, but couldn’t survive three years of bad Indian wiring (low quality components and shoddy installation). One day Sanjiv from Bihar is a plumber, the next day he’s an electrician…..there you have it….a recipe for disaster. Now there’s an argument for strict government regulation of standards if there ever was one.

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