The Fire

Ananda Mitra
4 min readFeb 3, 2022

It was not fog.

The messages began to come in late in the night. In my typical way, I was here and there. I was in a conversation with a bondhu there when the words “evacuation” and “fire” came in together in multiple messages here. The immediate visit to some Websites presented images that caused a moment of pause. This is happening now, merely a few kilometers from where I lie in bed and even closer to where my students are. Now it has been three days, the fire seems to be burning on. Many precautions are being put into place, much effort has been made to keep us safe. It is commendable work and decisions that could have long-term impact on the lives of many people are being made by wise people. I think we have learned a lot from COVID. Risk mitigation is an important part of life from now on. Precautions are a part of life now. When the threat appears, the responsible thing is to assess it, and take the correct steps to reduce the risk. I witnessed that happening, at least in my estimation, with this crisis.

That is not fog (Personal Photo)

As I drove North on Polo Road I could see the haze, as I got out of the car, I could smell the smoke. I could see the white plumes rising from the site where the event had happened.

An industrial fire. A fertilizer factory on fire, to the extent that a company that offers digital mapping services put it on their globally available digital map as the “structure fire” where I am. International news outlets were paying attention. Because the last time something like this happened, was at a much larger scale in Beirut, Lebanon where 218 people died and there was massive economic loss. Although I am in no Beirut, the amount of explosive material is about a fourth of what blew up in Beirut. At least, that is what we are being told.

Six hundred tons of ammonium nitrate, about 8 kilometers from where I am sitting. The powers that be, and the powers who know, are being cautious and that is sufficient for me to know that we need to be cautious. But as we are continuing to learn from the pandemic, caution is a collective activity. And sometimes caution must be prescribed just as we prescribe a medicine, and enforce the use of the medicine.

While no one wants to visualize what an explosion can do, there are trained people whose job it is to make us cautious and so far it seems to have gone well. The fire was so difficult that even those trained to deal with these situations themselves chose to be cautious, and the areas immediately surrounding the inferno was being treated with great care. In some parts of this country, fires are familiar threats. I know of a bondhu whose house was in the line of a forest fire, but we are not used to the threat of forest fires, thus this event is a reminder that we too are vulnerable. And thus we rely on informed decision makers who are in the difficult position of predicting what might happen, while also grappling with the human aspect of the crisis.

As in all such things, it is easy to see how we respond differentially to situations like this. COVID exposed the fault lines in our societies as a global event, but these localized events, of which most of my readers probably know nothing, are litmus tests of the community one inhabits. This threat is local, and its outcome is local and eventual fall out is local. Just goes to show that disruptions are local. With one spark, our lives have been disrupted. It may not matter to anyone outside the danger zone, but moments like this remind us how local our lives are. We may operate in a global space, we are affected by global events as we have learned over the last two years, but sometimes the local becomes vital and the duality of our existence in this day and age come sharply into focus when the balance is disrupted.

Now people here have to evacuate, as many have to do all the time from local disruptions, but our empathy with the explosion in Beirut, or a terrorist attack in Mumbai, or a hurricane in New Orleans remains hazy because we are not there. At this moment that proximity to threat seems to equate me with many different local disruptions which I have tended to treat as a spot on a digital map. But right now, I am at that spot on the map, and in a departure from the usual music I use, today I bring you news about where I am.



Ananda Mitra

My research and teaching interests include media and technology and its impact on everyday life available at