Tue, 18 Sep 2001

Fire guts 50 houses, hundreds made homeless

JAKARTA (JP): A major fire gutted an entire block of shacks in Kebon Kacang, Central Jakarta, on Monday morning, leaving at least 58 families, mostly poor migrants, homeless.

No fatalities were reported in the fire, which not only gutted 50 mostly-wooden houses, but also caused massive traffic congestion in Central Jakarta during the busy morning rush hour.

Kebon Kacang subdistrict chief Suwardi said the fire broke out at around 7:30 a.m. in one of the houses and within one hour had spread to almost all the other houses in the block, located off Jl. Kebon Kacang Raya.

In all, 306 people lost their homes, he said.

There was very little that the firemen could do because of the difficulty in getting close to the block, which could only be accessed from a small alley.

"The location was difficult to reach," Suwardi said, commenting on the 22 fire trucks that were dispatched to extinguish the blaze.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known although some residents said it came from a house belonging to a woman called Enyot.

The 500-square-meter block is owned by a businessman known to the residents as Junaidi, who comes and collects the rent every month.

The displaced families were sheltered in the auditorium of Tanah Abang Apartments, located just opposite the block, on Monday.

"Until the city administration comes up with plans for them, we will put them up here," Suwardi said.

Suwito, a local community chief, said most victims were poor migrants, working as food vendors, becak (pedicab) or bajaj (three-wheeled motorized vehicle) drivers.

Suwito, who also lost his home, voiced concern that the victims were not likely to receive any compensation because they did not own their houses.

The future looks bleak, particularly for long-time tenants who had been paying rent as low as Rp 60,000 a year.

"I had been renting the house all my life. It was my only choice. Where do I go now? I can't live on the streets," 40-year old Enah said as she held tightly to her seven-year-old son.

"I was just walking my son to school when a neighbor came and told me that my house was on fire. I ran as quickly as I could but when I arrived it had already burned to the ground," she said.

Enah, who works as a domestic helper in one of the nearby apartments, earns Rp 100,000 a month, said she might even be forced to pull her son out of school while she and her family looked for a new place to live.

Her husband is a construction worker who often comes home empty handed, she added.

For 30-year-old Nuryanto, who had lived in the area all his life, the fire could mean temporary separation from his wife and three children.

Nuryanto, who works as a technician at a printing company, said he might send them to live with his parents in Indramayu, West Java, if the landlord decided not to rebuild the residential block.

He said his family, his sister's family and two brothers together paid Rp 60,000 a year for their six-room house.

"Now that it's gone, I don't know where else to go," Nuryanto said.

In comparison, life would probably be a little easier for 24- year-old Didin, who works as a security guard at a luxury apartment and had paid Rp 150,000 a month in rent for his room, which he shared with his father.

"Luckily, I don't have kids yet and my wife lives in Indramayu with her parents. I guess I will have to find another place," Didin said.(07)