I won't know where to run if my house catches fire

By Thanh Vinh   September 14, 2023 | 11:48 pm PT
I won't know where to run if my house catches fire
Tube houses which have terraces and loggia sealed with iron bars in Hanoi, April 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
"If our house catches fire, where will we run to save ourselves?" my wife asked. I couldn't answer.

The fire that killed 56 people at the apartment block in an alley of Khuong Ha Street in Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District earlier this week has left the nation in a state of shock, especially those in Hanoi.

My family lives in Thanh Xuan, just more than two kilometers from the burned apartment block, which was a 10-story tube house divided into 45 apartments between 20 to 50 square meters each.

Since the tragedy, the question of "how to escape?" has been constant at every family meal, in an endless conservation between neighbors in my area.

The question was also raised in my family, as we watched television reports of the shocking fire. We could not come up with honest answers.

We are not living in an apartment block, but our house is pretty much the same. It's a five-story tube house with a ground area of 30 square meters.

It stands deep in an alley that is two meters wide, enough for two motorbikes to avoid each other, not for a car to enter, let alone a fire truck.

My home is typical of houses in Hanoi. There is only one entrance/exit at the front, while the three other sides are blocked by other houses. Windows at the front and on the terraces are sealed with iron bars to block burglars.

The staircase in our house was built right under the skylight, so it is the place that would draw a lot of air and smoke during a fire. We would not be able to run and escape.

Our motorbikes and electric bicycles are on the ground floor, blocking the door. With such a design, if a fire started from the vehicles, we'd have no escape.

Our only option then would be to run to the top floor, try to break the iron cage and jump out. Although I'm not sure if we would survive that height.

Our house's design is very common in Hanoi, where tube houses are built adjacent to each other.

And when building these houses, people talk more about the risk of burglary than of a deadly fire.

It's a luxury for them to think of fire alarm system, automatic sprinklers, or even buying a fire extinguisher, partly because there's no law stipulating fire safety protocols for individual households, yet.

But should we wait for a law to do something to protect ourselves?

I've looked around my house and imagined my wife and children desperately looking for a way to run from a fire. I could see it clearer than ever. I'm certain that without taking an early prevention measure, our lives would be at risk.

Maybe tomorrow, I am going to buy several things for our family, a fire disaster kit including smoke masks, fire extinguishers, fire suits and a rope ladder.

I hope not to use them, but can count on them when the disaster strikes. I will also remove my window cages to make an open escape route.

Images of the Khuong Ha fire will take a long time to fade. But I hope we can all now act to stop similar disasters from happening.

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