THE New Year’s Day Rose Hill Fire was another hot wake-up call for Castries – and Saint Lucia.
It’s always bad when homes go up in flames, leaving families with only what they wore at the time of the blaze. But it’s also always all that good, as now, when no lives are lost, never mind the material damage and property losses.
Each fire leaves lessons that we don’t seem to have been learning fast enough over the years. Yet, from the 1948 Castries Fire to this latest one at Rose Hill seven decades later, we are still to create and enforce those important urban planning decisions and mechanisms that will make the fundamental difference between life and death in such areas, scattered throughout the length and breadth of Saint Lucia.
The Rose Hill fire featured, yet again, the need for tough traffic regulations to guide parking along tiny roads to ensure access by emergency vehicles at any time, whether ambulance or fire truck. It also featured, once again, the need to start implementing available plans for development of unplanned communities across the country.
From the age of ‘Town and Country’ planning to the current stage of Urban and Rural Renewal, unplanned communities have been allowed to develop and expand with the intensity of the rural-urban drift.
Communities (like Rose Hill) in constrained spaces have, over endless decades, seen the growth and expansion of dwellings and structures both unsound and unsafe for human habitation. Landlords behave more like Tropical Lords of the Slums than providers of an essential social and human service. And when fires come we simply ‘Thank the Lord’ for lives saved and the luck of those who escaped unhurt.
But there’s much more we can do to not just minimize the possibilities of fatalities and property destruction.
Not that fires can be prevented, but it’s what we do when they happen – and between them.
Now that the ashes have gone cold and the smoldering embers have transformed into stark and unchanged reminders of the horrors that flames bring, the natural question regarding victims is: What next?
There’ve been the normal, natural promises and pledges of support and there’ll be the usual fund-raising activities and sympathetic donations. But what about the institutional responses and preventive actions?
Will vehicle owners everywhere still be allowed to hug or hog the nearest space to their homes as a natural private parking spot, irrespective of vehicle size or prospective impediments to traffic flow or emergency vehicles?
Will property owners in depressed/unplanned areas still be allowed to build and rent sub-human structures without official sanction or impediment?
How many more fires like at Rose Hill must happen and how many more times must fire trucks be impeded in their ability to respond quickly before those responsible for public safety uplift from their perches and start downloading and implementing workable solutions?
The donations and offers of assistance must be encouraged and supported in every such case. But it will also be absolutely critical for those planning the future of Castries to wake-up to the calls to action beckoned by the likes of the January 1, 2019 Rose Hill Fire to ensure more is done to make more unsafe places safer.
Meanwhile, a separate but somewhat related question remains: Why is the Saint Lucia Fire Service still unable, a year or so after, to offer even a clue as to the cause of the fire that destroyed the Folk Research Center (FRC)?
Like so much else, the answers are all (still) blowing in the wind.