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16 refugees die in Tripura fire
- Chief minister visits gutted Reang camps

Agartala, March 20: An uneasy silence pervaded the Reang refugee camp where 16 people, mostly women and children, were burnt alive yesterday in a fire that raged unchecked, gutting 500 huts.

The fire, ignited by shifting cultivators to destroy a terrace farm at Naisingpara in Kanchanpur subdivision, spread rapidly fed by strong winds, engulfing the refugee camp sprawled across three hillocks.

“The entire camp accommodates about 5,000 refugees, living in thatched and bamboo-made houses. The fire was first noticed around 12 in the afternoon but it spread with alarming speed aided by strong southern winds. Since the camp consists mostly of thatched, bamboo huts, with no water source around, the blaze could not be controlled,” said the subdivisional officer of Kanchanpur, Dilip Chakma Naisingpara.

Among the 16 dead, 11 were women and girls while the remaining five were elderly persons and infant boys.

They were identified as Jinerung Reang, Meldi Reang, Thungsarum Reang, Chhiati Reang, Maidurung Reang, Rehena Reang, Mui Reang, Lalfaka Wema, Juraham Reang, Dalufa Reang, Kampirung Reang, Maikala Reang, Ituha Reang, Lal Dungani, Mainurung Reang and Milirung Reang. Thirty other inmates sustained burn injuries, two of whom were taken to G.B. Hospital in Agartala in a critical condition.

More than 2,000 people were left homeless by the fire.

Over 37,000 refugees have been lodged in six camps of Tripura since ethnic feud between the Mizos and the Reangs in Mizoram in 1997.

Chief minister Manik Sarkar, accompanied by chief secretary S.K. Panda and director-general of police K. Salim Ali, reached Naisingpara this morning on a chopper to take stock of the situation, while CPM state secretary Bijan Dhar also led a party delegation to the spot.

Nothing could be done to extinguish the fire, as the camp is in a desolate place and “there is hardly any water source except two wells far below the hillock,” said the subdivisional officer.

“The fire died down on its own after swallowing the two clusters of huts,” said Chakma, adding that fire brigade vans reached the spot from Kanchanpur, 25km away, but nothing was left to be done by then.

“We are providing relief materials to the affected people who have been temporarily shifted to schools and tents in open spaces. From tomorrow, we will start rebuilding the gutted clusters of the camp,” he said.

Describing the devastation as a “colossal tragedy”, the chief minister promised all help. “You must not spare any effort to help these people and save their lives. The government is not ready to listen to excuses and you must do your best,” Sarkar told officials during a meeting.

Elvis Chorkhy, president of the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum, the government should have taken precautionary measures against such fires, ignited by shifting cultivators, but that was not done.

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