San Jacinto has been playing with fire, at least these past few weeks. We made national headlines as our Mayors office erupted into flames and a majority of the country found themselves wondering:
How does a town with no access to water put out a fire?
I want to back track this story a few months ago, when a tragic motor cycle incident happened that ultimately caused me to be evacuated from my site for a day.
Lately the community of motorcyclist in the region of Montes de Maria have been expressing their concern over the lack of safety and support provided to them by the local police and National government. They have been targeted by robbers who isolate them on the stretch of road to the neighbouring cities of San Juan and Carmen de Bolívar. The bandits then proceed to knock them off their bikes, shake ’em down and ride off into the night with their prized wheels. Many men conduct motorcycles in order to make a living out in these parts, in fact it’s the only form of transportation for most of the population. During a robbery gone wrong a beloved member of the San Jacinto community ended up dead, and needless to say people were pissed.
When pueblo people get pissed they protest in the only way they know how to be seen and heard, block major road passages with burning tires. Usually the police come and settle things down but this time was different, there was blood on the hands of the police and the solidarity of the town could not forgive this fault so easily.
The national army ended up showing up and things got out of hand, rocks started being thrown and the Army decided to shoot. Tragically, bullets hit some San Jacinteros who were in bad shape at the local hospital at which point the Peace Corps Security Manager decided to pull my site mate and myself out of town until things cooled off. When I returned, streets were quiet and the mood was somber but it wasn’t long until things started cooling off.
It was almost as if these protest would foreshadow the fire that took place earlier this week in my town. It was a day like any other and I was walking around town making my rounds when suddenly I saw a commotion down by the Mayors office and I asked one of my vecinos (neighbor) if he knew what was going on. It seemed faulty wiring sparked an electrical fire in the archives room, and to heighten the drama the Governor of the Region was in a meeting with the Mayor at the time. As I peered through the crowds of people running towards the area, I could see the large clouds of black smoke wafting through the air and people desperately trying to jump out the windows. At this point I decided to walk right back home.
It was not until I sat on my front porch that I begin to think “How on earth is my town going to put out this fire?”. I could hear people on my way home begin to panic:
“The flames are getting to tall, the smoke is too much, water! water we need water!” but everyone just stood there staring at each other baffled about where we would get this water, even at a time like this.
I felt terrible, I wanted to grab my trash bin full of rain water and take it to the fire but I knew that my family didn’t have enough water to survive should I decide to be so selfless, it wasn’t my water to give. So the answer to the question of how does a town with no access to water put out a fire?
The answer is you sit, you watch the flames grow exponentially and you wait for someone to come to the rescue. It was a miracle that there were no casualties to this incident, and the people of San Jacinto wasted no time in bringing as many ladders as they could to aid people from getting down. Even then, 15 people are suffering injuries related to fire. The silver lining was that it brought National awareness to the basic necessity of having access to water and implementing institutional facilities such as a fire station and emergency evacuation routes.
As far as how the community of San Jacinto feels about this incident? I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Loose translation: Hopefully the Mayor and the Governor implement access to water in this town after they felt the burn for themselves.
Loose translation: Incredible that Carmen de Bolívar and San Jacinto doesn’t have fire fighters.
Loose translation: God is big and powerful.
Loose translation: Thank you God because our Governor is safe and there were not deaths.
Loose translation: In El Carmen de Bolívar there are fighter fighters, fire trucks and aqueducts but this station is not in service because the Mayor does not have the supply of gasoline, or the insurance to operate.