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Fire? Whatsappening?

Jul 02,2017 - Last updated at Jul 02,2017

On June 10, the serene summer afternoon was interrupted by smoke and the smell of burning, followed minutes later by the wailing of sirens.

Not long afterwards, web blogs and messages on Whatsapp and Instagram poured in with photos and footage of the fire that raged at Kamaliyeh, near Sweileh, and of the Civil Defence Department’s gallant efforts to control it.

The following day, Sunday, only one newspaper, The Jordan Times, reported the fire.

The blaze was not a small affair. The flames in the photos appeared higher than a four-floor building, and so close to a residential area that people shot footage of it on their cellphones, where it was possible to hear firefighters talking among themselves.

According to reports, it covered 5 dunums of forest, which is disastrous in a country already threatened by desertification.

Still, the fire broke out too close to iftar time and, unlike firefighters, journalists cannot be expected to interrupt their repast just because duty calls.

Not that they needed to have gone far to do their work. The CDD statements were on the Internet, along with tonnes of photos and films.

On Monday, only 2 newspapers reported, not that a fire broke out, but that His Majesty King Abdullah personally joined the firefighters, and later congratulated them for their efforts.

Of course, Jordan is most fortunate to have such a conscientious King who engages in micromanaging the country at all levels, but this is not news.

In fact, there is unanimity on this among Jordanians.

Where were the reports about the fire?

We know from the CDD that, mercifully, there were no casualties; but how much was the material damage?

Should people who live close to the scene take precautions to prevent a second conflagration from reaching their homes? 

The public deserves answers to these and other questions.

Instead, there was a lengthy piece lamenting that the print press is threatened with extinction.

Given their dedication to keeping Jordanians informed, one may well ask if this would be any loss at all.

However, it would be dangerous to leave the field entirely to the social media.

On the cause of the fire, for instance, one blog blamed it on picnickers, while another claimed that it was caused by an electric short circuit. Really? In a forest?

More seriously, one blog claimed that firefighters took hours to arrive at the scene, which was the opposite of the truth.

From my house, I could hear rescue teams and helicopters rush to the scene, and they certainly did not take hours. But this is the nature of social media.

Anyone can easily express an unguarded sentiment in a moment of passion, but once it becomes public, it cannot be retracted.

To paraphrase Omar Khayyam: “The Moving cursor writes; and, having writ/Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit/Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line/Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it”.

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