Laos Journal - Fire in Luang Prabang

On Friday 31 January, after a challenging day all around, we were on our way home and saw this huge fire that had already engulfed one building and was about to start burning the buildings next to it. It was tragic to watch. Fortunately there were no injuries or deaths that we could see but sadly whole lives had been destroyed. What was especially gut wrenching was watching people run into their homes to rescue their few possessions. It was a very sad night.

Building on Fire in Luang Prabang

We arrived when the fire had already gained traction. We spoke with some of the people who were staying in the hotel. The one girl told us she had smelt something bad one hour earlier and had asked the reception if everything was okay. At that point there seemed to be no concern by anybody. Other hotel guests told us that they had left their passports and possessions in the hotel while they went out for dinner and came back when the hotel was in full blaze and had lost everything. The worst though were definitely the two homes that lost everything in the blaze and the two families and hotel owners who would have to rebuild their lives from scratch.

The video below starts from about the time we arrived at the fire and as you can see, nobody was really doing anything in the beginning to put the fire out.

As mentioned above, when we arrived there was nobody really engaging the fire and it took the fire department 30 minutes to send the first truck. The situation was complicated by the fact that there are no fire hydrants in Laos and so the only water they could use was the water in their tanks. Every time they seemed to start to get control of the fire they ran out of water and the fire would gain strength. I cannot say how long we stood there for but when we left (and four water tankers later) the fire did seem to be under control.

In the morning I went back to see the damage caused by the fire: it was tragic. It is good nobody was injured or killed but many things were lost in the fire.

Khammany Inn which sustained serious damage

Inside the Hotel

Inside the Hotel

The House that Caught Fire First

As you can see the damage in the hotel was extensive and the house completely gone. For a while there we were worried that no one would come to fight the fire and that the entire block was in danger of burning up. Thankfully fire trucks did eventually arrive. The other problem is that many of the homes in Laos are made of wood which meant the situation could have become much worse very quickly. In retrospect it is amazing that only three buildings burned down. We never did find out what caused the fire but my guess is something left on a stove unattended (although I may be completely wrong).

This was not a happy event to witness and while we are glad no one was injured or killed, we do hope and pray that those who lost their homes would be able to recover and that there lives would be healed.

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