Myanmar Flames: The Yangon Nightmare

On the 19th of October, an ISKL family awoke to a traveler’s worst nightmare. Flames licked the Kandawgyi Palace hotel and soon the structure was engulfed in flames. What was initially a luxurious 5 star Myanmar hotel became a harrowing scene that took the life of a foreign guest. The iconic teak fed the fire and resulted in 300 firefighters desperately trying to calm the damage. The Newbolt family managed to save themselves from this tragic event.

It began at 3:00AM in the morning, that was when Taylor ‘18 heard sounds. ‘we heard people running through the halls banging on the doors and yelling something, but we didn’t understand what they were yelling.’ After trying to ignore the commotion and go back to sleep the family began questioning what was happening in the hotel. They began speculating: ‘We thought people had come back drunk or potentially there were terrorists in the hotel.’

They urgently attempted to call the lobby but to no avail, it took some time before someone finally responded. The family was told to evacuate immediately due to the fire that had begun on the roof of the hotel. The causes of the fire are still unclear, BBC reported that there was still an ongoing investigation as to how the Yangon fire began. They believe it could have been due to a gas cylinder explosion or an electrical wire short-circuiting. After frantically packing their bags Taylor and Zoe ‘20 made their way out of the falling hotel.

‘I will never forget that moment of just looking up and seeing the hotel just engulfed in flames.’ Once Taylor and her sister found themselves outside of the hotel they watched as the fire quickly claimed their room and those surrounding. The scariest moment of the entire night was perhaps having to wait outside of the hotel, waiting to be reunited. Mrs. Newbolt shared these sentiments ‘The girls left a minute before us so we were separated briefly which freaked me out when we got out of the hotel and saw the extent of the fire.  My greatest fear was separation from family and then concern about other guests and staff getting out.’ Luckily they did, The Newbolts managed to escape ‘with our lives and all of our stuff.’

In the midst of this chaotic environment, Taylor remembers ‘There were just police shoving us to the side, they were trying to  get people evacuated but there was no clear communication, it was very unorganized and it was pitch black.’ In hindsight, the family was left astounded by the lack of security precautions taken by the hotel to ensure the safety of their guests. Mrs. Newbolt’s message to families traveling is: ‘Don’t take for granted emergency exit information.’ She stresses the importance of being close to your family and aware of where they may be at all times. ‘I did not think to see if there were fire alarms or sprinkler systems, I’m definitely more tuned to look for those now when checking into a hotel. It doesn’t hurt to talk about “what if” scenarios with your family and how to ensure you stay together.’

The event ended in a touristic monument in flames, traumatized guests and a death. In reflection, Mrs. Newbolt commented ‘recognize that life is fragile and you need to embrace every moment– things can change so quickly.’