Friday, July 8, 2011

Just in case we forget we are living in Laos

A story from the English Language newspaper The Vientiane Times shows how things happen in a typical Lao manner. For those of you who haven't been here yet, the location -Nam Phou - is pretty much the main street area of Vientiane...   

Power lines in flames, but firefighters stay away

Flames erupted from an electricity pole at Nam Phou yesterday but, as the blaze enveloped a forest of power and telephone cables, fire engines were nowhere to be seen, despite frantic calls for help.

As the fire spread along wires crossing Setthathirath Road, alarmed onlookers even went to the fire station about 1km away to beg firefighters to come to the scene. But despite the numerous calls and personal visits, no one could be persuaded to turn a hose on the flames.


As car owners rushed to remove their vehicles from under the falling cables, employees of nearby offices and restaurants came running with fire extinguishers to quell the blaze.

A security guard on duty outside the Vientiane Times said he saw a spark similar to those he had witnessed on other days, but this time the spark ignited a bird's nest and flames spread rapidly among the thick tangle of wires towards nearby buildings.

Within a few minutes of the start of the fire, hundreds of people in the Nam Phou area were out in the street, gazing upwards in horror. Some shouted out warnings to stay away from the pole because the live power lines would come free and land on the street. Most of the telephone cables were alight within five minutes and then a few large electricity cables caught fire, causing sparks to engulf the transformer in a series of cracks that sounded like fireworks. The live power cables began to break free, landing on the road and striking the roofs of vehicles.

Traffic came to a standstill, as fallen cables blocked the road. After about 20 minutes the fire had burnt itself out but left live electrical cables and telephone wires strewn across the road and a charred pole as evidence of the damage.

An official from Electricity du Laos said such fires were common in hot weather and that a number of electricity poles in Vientiane are vulnerable because of the great many cables they support and the presence of birds' nests, which act as kindling. “In hot weather, people use a lot of electricity, which can cause small electric cables to overheat and begin to spark. The birds' nests are then set alight and the sparks spreads to the telephone and power lines,” he said.

As evidenced by today's fire, city and fire officials need to work together to solve the problem and prevent further dangerous fires from breaking out. Thanks to the rapid response of a few quick-thinking individuals, the fire was contained and no one was injured.

B y Souknilundon Southivongnorath

Oh, and tonight we had Gordon Bleu chicken according to the packaging :-)

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