Firefighters dealt with more fires in first MCO

Firefighters working hard to put out the fire at a recycling factory in Jalan Dato Sellathevan, Batu 4 in Kampung Jawa on Oct 19. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Hats off to another group of "frontliners" who have had to battle fires, literally.

Firefighters had to deal with 15,393 blazes between during the movement control order (MCO) from March 18 to Aug 31.

Out of that number, almost 46% (7,032) were caused by open burning while 1,955 more were structural fires in which buildings and other smaller structures were damaged by flames.

Fire and Rescue Department operations director Datuk Nor Hisham Mohammad explained that almost half of the structural fires during that MCO period was caused by electrical faults.

“Electrical faults accounted for 49.1% of fires during that period, followed by gas leaks (17%) and sparks (14%). A small percentage of fires, between about 2% and 7% were caused by flammable items like matches, lighters and candles, ” he said.

He also that there were 23 casualties during that period with the highest number of deaths recorded between May 13 and June 19 where a total of 11 people were killed.

“About 56% of those killed in fires between March and August were above 60. We believe this could be because of immobility due to age or poor health, as well as smoke inhalation, ” Nor Hisham said.

However, Nor Hisham said the number of fatalities during this period was lower compared to the same period in 2018 with 32 deaths recorded, and 33 deaths in 2019.

(And for further comparison, the department dealt with 19,165 fires throughout that March 18 to Aug 31 period in 2018, and 23,094 blazes in the same period last year.)

Nor Hisham also noted that the first stage of the MCO - from March 18 to March 31 - saw the most number of fires per day since the Covid-19 outbreak started in Malaysia.

During this two-week month period, there were 2,634 fires which broke out nationwide. This means an average of 188 fires daily.

This is much higher compared to other MCO periods which followed where the average number of fires was between 84.5 to 113.2.

During that period, he said there were 1,904 cases of open burning and 134 structural fires.

“The reason there were more fires during the first MCO compared to subsequent periods is because we were in the monsoon transition period, at the end of the north-east monsoon season.

“This period is known for dry weather and minimal rainfall and this caused open burning to easily occur, ” he said.

While it is risky to be outdoors during a pandemic, Malaysians should also be cautious about indoor risks, such as house fires.

House fires could prove fatal if proper safety measures aren’t in place - as shown by the death figures provided by the Fire and Rescue Department for the various stages of the movement control order (MCO).

Nor Hisham Mohammad said one precaution that home owners could take was to have the electrical wiring in their homes assess every 10 years or so to prevent fires.

"You can call a competent electrician to evaluate and look for damage or substandard wiring systems. You can also target and fix certain areas of your house instead of having to rewire the whole house, " he said.

Statistics from the department also showed that about half of fires that damaged buildings and other structures during the movement control order (MCO) period between March 18 and Aug 31 were caused by electrical faults in the building.

Other main causes during that period were gas leaks, sparks, and flammable items like matches, lighters and candles.

While the department recommends having fire fighting and prevention tools such as fire extinguishers and smoke detectors at home, Nor Hisham said it would also be good if home owners could also identify escape routes for each floor of their homes as a precaution.

"This can be in the form of an unlocked grille door and everyone in the household must know the location and the best way to access it, " he said.

Nor Hisham said while he understood that home owners might prefer to lock every entry point of their home to prevent intruders, they might want to consider putting the key to an escape route within accessible reach for everyone.

Families, he said, should also consider putting keys within the reach of younger occupants in the house so that they too could play a part in helping others in the household make a quick escape in case of a fire.

Nor Hisham said although the department had been tasked with additional sanitisation duties during the pandemic, its main priority remained firefighting and life saving.

“Sanitisation works are scheduled so we are managing well and we have enough assets to carry out all our duties. “But when an emergency happens, we will always prioritise our fire fighting duties, ” he said.

The department, he added, also had the help of volunteer firefighters, local authorities and the health department.

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