Be it a fire in Yangmingshan National Park, which blazed for 17 hours before being extinguished yesterday, or last month's marathon 40-hour blaze that gutted a high-tech complex in Hsichih, Taipei County, fires are an everyday occurrence in Taiwan.
A worrying state of affairs, Taiwanese in general pay little attention to fire prevention and fire safety, experts said yesterday.
From January to June this year, there have been 7,162 fires in Taiwan, National Fire Administration statistics show. The blazes claimed 103 lives and incurred losses of up to NT$14.3 million. The Hsichih fire alone accounts for NT$13 million of that total.
Over the past two years, statistics show that there were 15,560 fire incidents last year and 18,254 fire incidents in 1999. The top three causes of fires in Taiwan are discarded cigarette butts, electronic appliances, and the burning of trash and weeds.
Hsiung Kuang-hua (熊光華), a professor of fire safety at the Central Police University, said the public's carelessness was largely to blame for Taiwan's high occurence of fires. "Taiwanese are constantly throwing away un-extinguished cigarettes. But what they don't realize is the enormous amount of government resources and energy it takes to put out a fire that is caused by a cigarette," Hsiung said.
Chien Hsien-wen (
"Taiwanese don't have a clear understanding of what fire safety is and rarely do they show any concern for fire prevention. If people would realize that everyone is likely to experience a dangerous blaze at least once in their lifetime, they would take the issue more seriously," Chien said.
According to Taiwan's Forest Law, if individuals wish to burn garbage in mountainous areas they must make a request to the local fire department first. But according to fire safety experts this rule is hardly ever followed.
There is work that government offices could do as well.
"To prevent a forest fire from becoming a disaster, the management department [of Yangmingshan National Park] should grow a variety of plants to prevent fires from spreading and to minimize the difficulty of putting out the fire. If they had done so on Yangmingshan, the fire would not have spread as widely as it had this time," Chien said.