Fire hazards

209

Interview

Indrė: Hello, I am Indrė Zaicevaitė and my guest is teacher Rasa Burakienė. The topic of our interview today would be fires and their danger. Fires, as an accident, are a very dangerous catastrophe, although they did not happen often in Lithuania recently, but as someone who has had personal experience, I would like to ask you a couple of questions. So how many times have you encountered such dangers?

Rasa: I have encountered this twice in my life. I encountered it for the first time during my studies. It was a very warm and dry spring and some people just started burning the meadows on purpose. As people simply wanted to get a bigger harvest, to grow a better meadow – they set fire to meadows, grasses, and because of the strong wind, the fire spread rapidly, and I had the good fortune to run and put out the huge area that caught fire near the house, in order to prevent the territory of the factory next to the house from catching fire, burning  the dangerous substances there and to avoid a bigger disaster. And the second experience of my life would be in 2002, again we had a very hot, dry summer, especially in August, and a huge peat fire broke out around Vilnius. It was a completely different experience. So, I have encountered 2 fires: one fire, when I had to put out an open flame, and the second fire, when you live and realize that everything around you is burning, there is a terrible stench, but there is no open fire that you cannot put out, because you do not know, where exactly is the source of combustion.

Indrė: And perhaps you know the reason for the fire in 2002?

Rasa: The cause of the beginning was, as I already mentioned, a great drought. It was very hot, it was just over 30º for the whole month of August and I would think that the fire was caused by human negligence. He just might have left the fire burning, maybe he threw some kind of burning object or smoke. There have always been swamps and forested areas around Vilnius, and over many thousands of years areas of peatland have formed. Peat is a mineral and is very valuable, but it is dangerous because it does not burn in an open fire. And when they heat up and start burning – they don’t burn, they smoke. You see smoke rising, but you don’t know where it’s burning. At the time when the huge areas of peatland were on fire, we lived there, for those few weeks, in the great smog, there was a terrible stench, it was strongly recommended not to open the windows at all in the house, because the air contained compounds of very poisonous substances. The products of burning peat are, in fact, very poisonous. They stink, it’s like a dark fog, you can see the sun shining through that dark fog, but it is not warm at all. And another thing, it was suggested, again insistently, to be outside as little as possible.

Indrė: Of course, anything can happen. And you mentioned that the first experience you have had with these fires, you had to put them out yourself.

Rasa: Yes, we ran with the whole family to put out the fire so that the material in the factory area did not catch fire.

Indrė: Yes, could you describe the whole extinguishing process, what things had to be done?

Rasa: What do you need first? First of all, don’t panic. Panic is the first obstacle that will surely hinder the successful completion of the work. The second thing, we immediately divided into roles, who does what, so that we don’t run around each other, so that we don’t disturb each other. We continued to agree on the third thing – how we will shout if we see that we are no longer in control of the situation. These were the 3 steps we agreed upon between ourselves before running to put out the fire. What did we have with us? We had shovels and with shovels we dug, grabbed as much earth as possible and poured it on the fire so that the fire would not get oxygen and it would go out by itself. Next, we managed the situation so that, for example, we did not try to extinguish the entire fire, because it was impossible, it was too large of an area. We tried to stop the fire where it spreads, which means to surround the fire with rings of earth so that the fire does not spread anymore, and in the middle it will extinguish itself. It means that we did not put out all the fire, we put out where it was dangerous. And then another thing, what else did we have. We had with us wet handkerchiefs, wet rags, wet scarves, which we wrapped around our mouths and noses to avoid poisoning. And we also had wet sacks so that if we could not bury the fire, we put out the fire with those rags. These were our actions. And the other thing, just what I remember from that extinguishing, is that terrible extreme heat. Meaning, you had to watch not only that the fire didn’t spread, but you also had to constantly watch that you didn’t catch fire yourself. It means to watch where you are standing, not to be in one place. Again, we had agreed that we would be in each other’s sight at all times, so that we would see each other and if someone would feel sick, weak – that’s it, let it burn as it burns, but let’s save the loved one. Well, that was the stressful situation, and what can I say – when you have an exact plan of action, when you know exactly what you are doing and when you know exactly what you will do, if something happens – there is no feeling of panic, there is no feeling of fear, you simply have the goal of extinguishing, stopping the fire.

Indrė: And you mentioned here that it was scary to set yourself on fire. The event itself and after the extinguishing, when the accident was already avoided, did it somehow affect your psychological state, well-being?

Rasa: No, mental state, it… How did it affect me? I would say, I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t as dangerous there, but the point is that it made me stronger, because I already know how to act in such a situation. I would say it had a positive effect because it made me stronger for this situation.

Indrė: It’s great to hear that everything is on the positive side. Well, I have asked my questions and thank you very much for participating.

Rasa: Of course, always.