Wed, 07 May 2003

Fire ravages neighborhood, 700 poor left homeless

Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Good news: No casualties. Bad news: It is estimated that more than 700 people lost their homes after a fire ravaged a neighborhood in Taman Sari, West Jakarta, on Tuesday morning, leaving residents with little more than ashes.

More than 200 people are currently taking shelter at St. Joseph High School near the area, and receiving meals from the West Jakarta municipal government. About 200 more are expected to gather by nightfall.

Meanwhile, Ibu Dede, 61, is only left with what she is wearing, after the blaze that was estimated to have started at 2 a.m. razed her entire house and about 60 others in the densely populated Jl. Kebun Jeruk neighborhood 05/08 and 06/08, before being extinguished at around 5 a.m. by residents, neighbors and firefighters.

"I am waiting for my daughter to pick me up. She will take me to her home in Karawaci, Tangerang, Banten province, where I will be staying for a while," she said.

She was not sure of what she would do, whether to rebuild her house or move elsewhere. "I just need to get away from here at the moment."

Residents said the police and the fire department were to conduct an investigation into the cause of the blaze.

Some residents accused a neighbor of having caused the fire from a gas stove.

However, unlike in some reported cases, where a mob would attack someone they suspected caused a fire, the residents of Kebun Jeruk neighborhood remained calm.

Ibu Dede said that she lived in a small house with five other families, comprising 15 people. More than 200 families lived in the relatively small area.

Jakarta has a high incidence of fires with about 700 cases per year. Most fires happen in densely populated areas, where electricity is often illegally obtained.

Plywood, which is widely used to construct houses in slums, is also easily inflammable.

Amri, another resident, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that at around 2:15 a.m., he heard a rowdy mob outside his bedroom window.

He woke up to see a plywood-made house engulfed in a huge blaze only two houses from his. The blaze quickly created hysteria and chaos among residents as some attempted to save their belongings.

Amri and several other men attempted to extinguish the fire by using buckets to scoop water from a nearby river.

At around 3:30 a.m., he said, fire trucks arrived and doused the flames.

"The fire trucks quickly ran out of water and had to get water from the Ciliwung River on Jl. Hayam Wuruk, West Jakarta," he said.

Amri explained that the fire was finally put out at dawn, leaving nothing much for the residents to salvage.

Only a few belongings were seen at a nearby badminton court, which is being used as an additional shelter.

Most of the residents took shelter at St. Joseph High School, where final exams were being held.

"The exams will not be affected by the residents' presence, as they will only run until noon for the next few days," said Fransisca Rusmiati, one of the teachers.