"Gone In Minutes": Dal Lake Houseboat Owner Recounts Fire

The fire broke out in one of the houseboats -- traditionally made of wood -- on Saturday morning and spread to others moored alongside. Five houseboats were reduced to cinders.

A houseboat on Srinagar's Dal Lake caught fire yesterday and it spread fast.

Srinagar:

Three tourists from Bangladesh, who were staying in an exquisite houseboat in Srinagar, have died in the devastating fire at Dal Lake's Ghat number 9. The exact cause of the fire is still not known and an investigation is in progress, officials said.

The fire broke out in one of the houseboats -- traditionally made of wood -- on Saturday morning and spread to others moored alongside. Five houseboats were reduced to cinders before fire officials could bring the blaze under control. Several tourists were rescued, but three visitors from Bangladesh died.

"The fire erupted at 5 am and the police, fire officials and the state disaster relief force reached the spot," said Aijaz Asad, the District Magistrate of Srinagar. "Since houseboats are made of wood, once a fire starts it engulfs an entire houseboat," he said.

"We couldn't make out how it happened," said local boatman Mohammad Yaqoob, speculating that it could have been caused by friction. "Within minutes, everything was gone. We have lost everything. Nothing could be salvaged," he said.

Kashmir's famous houseboats are literally struggling to stay afloat.
The houseboat owners' association say the number of houseboats have come down to 750 from 2000 in the last three decades.

Reason -- a court-imposed ban on the construction of new houseboats. Aging houseboats are not getting repaired on time either because of delay in official permission and difficulty of availing cedar wood. Houseboats are made of exquisitely carved wood including cedar.

The boatmen say they need more firefighting infrastructure in the Dal.

Abdul Razak, who has been a boatman for the last 50 years, said he is more shocked about the loss of three lives than the loss of the houseboats.

"I'm deeply saddened by the death of the three persons in the fire. A houseboat can be built again but these three lives can never come back," he said.

Underscoring the need for firefighting system in the lake, he said this lacunae is the biggest problem. "Our appeal to the government is for fire tenders in the lake," he said.

Last year, seven houseboats were burnt in two separate fire incidents in Nageen and Dal Lake.

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