April 8, 2009

Santa Rosalia in Flames

Fires in Santa Rosalia are a serious threat as the majority of the houses here are made of wood, and in the downtown area they are built right on top of one another, each sharing an adjacent wall, reminiscent of San Francisco in 1906. On March 18 while we were in Estados Unidos, an entire city block of downtown Santa Rosalia burst into flames due to faulty wiring at an internet café. This is the second time that faulty wiring in the same café had caused a fire, but last time it didn’t cause much damage. The fire started about 4:30 pm and lasted until evening as there wasn’t sufficient water to fight it effectively. The mine stepped in right away to help the city out. Two fire trucks and crews battled the flames, but the trucks didn’t hold enough water to put the fire out. Ten houses were burnt to the ground, including the home of a mine employee and his mother. Fortunately no one was hurt. When they ran out of water they used a bulldozer to tear down standing houses and create a fire line.

Early on Minera Boleo had purchased two fire trucks, giving one to the city and keeping one for the mine. The trucks each hold 350 gallons of water, sufficient water to last only 6 minutes. Minera Boleo brought the fire truck from the mine to help fight the fire. Although the city has a fire hydrant system, it is defunct. We have heard two stories about that: some say the city doesn’t keep the reservoir full, others that the city sold that hydrant system piping to a contractor for another use. Although the fire department also had a large tank wagon nearby downtown for storing additional water, it was empty. We believe the city uses the tank water to keep the plants watered. Everytime Esperando walks past he thumps it and it is always empty.

On the night of the fire, when the fire trucks ran out of water they drove the tanker to the edge of town, about 10 minutes away, to the water refill station. We have heard that people were there washing cars and wouldn’t move to let the tanker refill. Where is a cop when you need one? Why doesn’t a fireman have more authority? The mine is now purchasing a tanker truck that can refill from any water source, including the ocean to which we have easy access. How do you save a people from themselves?

The aftermath—in the U.S. you would look to your insurance company to help you out. Here people don’t carry insurance. But this being an election year has worked in the favor of those who lost their homes as the government is going to rebuild everyone’s house. They will only build them a one level house, so those wanting an upstairs will have to figure out some way to pay for it themselves.

No comments: