Sri Lanka girls school ignored fire warnings: residents

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Museaus College had ignored warning of fire hazards and did not have trained staff to deal with emergencies when a major fire swept through its auditorium, officials and residents said Saturday.

The school located facing Colombo’s Barnes Place and Rosmead Place had organised a series of celebrations to mark its 125th anniversary and primary school students were rehearsing for a concert when the fire broke out Friday.

Fortunately, there were no casualties and the students were evacuated to safety, but if the fire broke out during school hours it could have led to a major tragedy, a fire official said.

Chief fire officer R. G. Wijesuriya, who was among the first responders, said school staff had some basic fire fighting equipment, but did not know how to use them.

One man was desperately trying to use a portable fire extinguisher, but did not know how to remove the safety pin before using it, Wijesuriya said.

The Museaus College had built the 1,650-seat auditorium without consideration for parking facilities and residents had repeatedly raised fears of a fire there and warned that it could have also spread to neighbouring homes.

The head of the residents’ association Yoga Perera said they had raised the need for a traffic plan in case of a fire at the school and the need to have evacuation plans, but the trustees of the school had brushed them off.

The fire department said improper building design prevented their big fire fighting platform entering the school premises and it had to be stationed on Barnes Place and spray water from a distance.

Residents said the school had permission to have up to 2,000 students but was now having more than 8,000 students and teachers causing massive stress on limited infrastructure in the area.

Parking of school vans and cars has been a constant problem for residents whose gates are constantly blocked by school traffic.





Police were also not enforcing parking restrictions in the area.

Fire officer Wijesuriya said it was fortunate that the fire was after school hours and if not, they would not have been able to access the school because of vehicles blocking both Rosmead Place and Barnes Place.

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