Tue, 01 May 2007
Adisti Sukma Sawitri and Anissa S. Febrina, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The fire has been put out, leaving behind smoke and water damage in a basement level of an upscale mixed-use building in South Jakarta, but the finger-pointing has only begun.

Fire tore through the lower basement of the Bellezza Shopping Arcade (BSA) on Sunday night, reportedly caused by a short circuit in a storage room.

Flames quickly spread through the basement level, filled with maintenance equipment, wood and rubber cables, producing a thick black smoke that quickly spread to the rest of the building.

The blaze was extinguished early Monday after 38 fire engines were deployed to the scene.

Shortly after the fire broke out at around 7 p.m. on Sunday night, people inside the building were evacuated. There were no reports of injuries.

Thick smoke still clouded the building Monday afternoon, making it impossible for tenants -- mainly cafes, shops and a fitness center on the lower ground floor -- to resume business.

Fireman Sunaryoto, who was among those who responded to the blaze Sunday night, said they had difficulty entering the building due to the thick smoke that filled even the emergency staircase.

The fire department has accused the building management of failing to install a proper exhaust system.

BSA general manager Rosihan Saad acknowledged the building's ventilation system may have contributed to the thick black smoke that filled much of the building.

However, he quickly fired back at the fire department, saying "at first they were just using a portable fire extinguisher to put out the fire".

The management at the Bellezza says it has met all international fire-safety standards, including those laid out by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), based in the U.S.

Indonesian Fire Protection Association member Placidus S. Petrus, also the country director for the NFPA, rejected the Bellezza's claim to have met the association's codes and standards.

"Like most (high-rise) projects in Jakarta, the management tried to cut corners," he said.

Petrus said that in practice, most high-rise buildings were designed to include standard fire protection systems. During construction, however, cheaper systems were often introduced as contractors tried to save money.

Money-saving efforts often include decreasing the number of installed water pumps or installing low-pressure sprinklers in areas, such as storage rooms, where high-pressure sprinklers should be used.

Petrus, also a member of the Indonesian Fire Service Association's advisory board, said there were very few buildings in the city that met international fire safety standards.

"It is time for every mixed-use complex to be rated in terms of fire protection systems."

Mixed-use projects, due to their complex nature, requires more detailed and customized fire protection systems that differ for each section of the building.

"The public should be aware of the safety of each public building. They should be rated by a team of experts, with the results made available to the general public," Petrus said.

"In this case, it is not important to finger-point. Just note that no one should compromise when it comes to fire protection systems because it involves lives."



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