By Uganda Online Media
Kampala: Police have released a preliminary report on the recent spate of fire outbreaks in schools since the start of the year indicating that most of them have been deliberating set by unknown people.
According to the police report, since January when schools resumed, at least 18 incidents of fires have been reported in different parts of the country.
In January, four children were killed when the fire broke out in the dormitory of New Crest Junior at Kibedi Day and Boarding Primary School in Kawempe division.
In February, a 12-year-old pupil died in a fire that gutted the dormitory of Good Times Primary School in Kawaala in Kampala whereas last week, 14-year-old Emmanuel Muwumba died in a fire that gutted one of the dormitories of St Joseph Senior Secondary-Nakanyonyi in Jinja.
The Police director for fire and rescue services, AIGP Joseph Mugisa said investigations indicate that most of the fires are set deliberately by unknown individuals who target school dormitories.
“During this period, there have been 18 fire incidents in which seven lives have been claimed. Our investigations show that six of these fires were caused by suspected arson or deliberate burning by some people who deliberately set dormitories in fire,” AIGP Mugisa said.
According to Mugisa, preliminary investigations indicate that most of the fires were set when learners were out of the dormitories either for supper or during prep time.
“In most cases, even when lives have been lost, the fire is timed when learners are out for supper or during prep time.”
Whereas in the unfortunate incident at Kibedi Day and Boarding Primary School in Kawempe in January the fire started when learners were asleep in the dormitory, the police preliminary report however indicates that in all the other incidents, it has been done when learners are out.
For example, the 14-year-old senior student who last week died in a fire at St Joseph Senior Secondary-Nakanyonyi in Jinja was caught while returning from the bathroom.
When the fire started and the boy was naked, he feared running out of the dormitory naked, prompting him to run to get clothes, only to suffocate and died in the fire.
The Police director however explained more investigations are to be done on circumstances under which the fires started since it has been found out that it was after some students have been suspended or in some cases after a misunderstanding between school owners.
“Students are involved in a strike and then reprimanded. The next thing we hear is a school fire,” AIGP Mugisa said, adding that the most affected are the privately-owned schools.
Mugisa noted that whereas there have been guidelines put in place by government to help control school fires, these have not been heeded to by schools.
He said in most schools, the dormitories are so congested whereas the deckers are piled up.
“Packing of deckers and learners in a dormitory should be avoided. For example, in the Kawempe school fire, there were three-deckers going up and learners were almost touching the ceiling. In case of emergency, the learners could not escape and many could be killed during a stampede,” Mugisa said.
“Dormitories should have adequate means of escape but there should also be adequate evacuation plan in case of any emergencies.”
The Police director in charge of fire and rescue services said schools should have perimeter fences and CCTV cameras installed at strategic points as a determent measure but also check bags of learners before entering schools for materials like matchboxes and petrol that could be used to start fires.
Schools have also been urged to always keep an ear on suspended or expelled students but also watch out for any information in case of misunderstandings with neighbors and in any case, the information should be reported to police for action.
“Schools should have portable fire extinguishers in place and other fire detection and alarm systems for use in case of a fire outbreak. Schools should also be constructed in a way that aids fire safety,” Mugisa added.