Fires in northwestern Syria leave families homeless

The Syria Civil Defence extinguished a fire that broke out in al-Ajyal displacement camp in northern Idlib - January 17, 2024 (The White Helmets)

The Syria Civil Defence extinguished a fire that broke out in al-Ajyal displacement camp in northern Idlib - January 17, 2024 (The White Helmets)

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“I saved my children from the blazes. This is more important than anything else,” said Amal al-Keizawy, as she spoke to Enab Baladi about the fire that broke out in her family’s tent, a few days ago, with a choked voice and a sense of acceptance.

Al-Keizawy, 30, lives in a small tent within Basqala camp in the village of Babisqa, rural Idlib, northern Syria, and she was not the only one in the area to have her tent and belongings go up in flames, as hundreds of fires have occurred in the region since the beginning of the current winter season (2023-2024).

With the beginning of each winter, areas in northwest Syria witness an almost daily outbreak of fires in homes or displacement camps, due to the use of improper heating materials by residents.

Escape from death

Al-Keizawy, originally from the town of Haish belonging to Maarat al-Numan, south of Idlib province, lost everything she owned after a fire broke out in her family’s tent, which consists of five members, including three children.

The fire consumed all the household items, clothing, and furniture inside the tent, without the ability to retrieve even the simplest of belongings, according to al-Keizawy.

Speaking about the details of the incident, al-Keizawy said that the fire occurred while her family members were sleeping, due to a small piece of pomace used by the family for heating, falling out while the heater was operating as they slept. The family did not notice until the fire had started and the tent walls began to stick together, as described by al-Keizawy.

Pomace is a flammable product made from the waste material left over from olive oil production, used as heating material in northwest Syria.

Mohammed Damlaqi, a displaced person from Aleppo city, told Enab Baladi that his house, located in the village of Sajo near Azaz countryside north of Aleppo city, burned down less than a month ago without knowing the causes of the incident.

Damlaqi does not own a heater in his house, and the expected reasons pointed towards an electrical short circuit due to an electric heater that had been turned off by the family about half an hour before the incident.

Damlaqi’s family consists of four members: his mother, a nine-month-old child, and his wife. The young man had locked the family in when he left the house without mentioning the reasons, which put the family in a difficult situation as they were not able to leave the house until several minutes later, when he heard by chance while buying some groceries that a fire had broken out in his home, according to his statement to Enab Baladi.

Al-Keizawy did not expect to wake up to a fire enclosing her and her sleeping children. It took her just a few seconds to get her children out of the tent without any physical harm, according to her.

According to her, the families and neighbors living in the same camp started to extinguish the fire after she and her children left, in a collective initiative by the residents, to be followed by teams of the Syria Civil Defence arriving minutes later to put out the fire and ensure there were no injuries.

Camps in northwest Syria are constantly exposed to fires, one of the prominent causes being their tents’ quick-ignition nature, made of fabric or nylon.

The Syria Civil Defence told Enab Baladi that since the beginning of the current winter season (2023-2024), they have responded to more than 350 fires until January 17 of the current year, resulting in the death of one woman and injuries to 28 civilians, including burns and suffocation, among them five children and four women.

Financial suffocation

Al-Keizawy, after losing her family’s possessions, was forced to move to her parents’ tent located in the Haish camp in rural Idlib, with the intention of returning to Basqala camp where the family was residing, but only after securing a safe shelter and some essential supplies.

She informed Enab Baladi that a “good Samaritan” had provided the family with a tent, two mattresses, and two blankets.

The impact of the fires on al-Keizawy’s tent and Damlaqi’s home was limited to material damage, but they left behind two families unable to renew the burned household furniture due to the absence of financial capacity and low labor wages.

Amal’s husband earns about 700 Turkish lira a month from his work on a water tanker in northwest Syria, and it is impossible for this small amount to cover the high prices for purchasing the family’s needs in full; it is only sufficient for the costs of daily life.

Every US dollar is equivalent to 30 Turkish liras, according to the Döviz website, which specializes in currency exchange rates.

As for Damlaqi, he stated that his family is currently staying with neighbors in the same neighborhood, who hosted the family after the fire due to the complete damage of the house and the loss of all household furniture and goods the father works with.

Damlaqi, who has a disability and cannot work long hours due to the lack of opportunities, turned to the profession of buying scrap metal from people in nearby neighborhoods and selling it.

Poor economic conditions and bad living situations add to the hardships of families whose homes or tents are exposed to fire due to the use of less expensive heating materials in winter, which carry risks to civilians, such as primitively treated fuel, plastic materials, coal, and other unsafe materials.

Fire safety tips

The Idlib Health Directorate, on January 16 via Facebook, published the necessary guidelines for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, such as properly venting heating devices, ensuring that combustion residues do not leak into the house, ventilating rooms well when using gas heaters, turning off the heater and making sure all materials inside it are completely burned before sleep, ventilating the sleeping area well, and not installing a gas-powered water heater inside the bathroom.

The Syria Civil Defence team works through awareness campaigns in northwest Syria to continuously spread information about safety and preventive measures, including proper ways to use heating materials in winter, as well as discussing the risks of unsafe materials, according to a previous statement to Enab Baladi.

According to statistics from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), northwest Syria is home to 4.5 million people, of whom 4.1 million need assistance and 3.7 million suffer food insecurity, 2.9 million of whom are internally displaced, with two million living in camps.

 

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