‘Let’s join hands to preserve old Kuching’

KUCHING: Shop owners or stakeholders of the historical precinct of Old Kuching City are urged to unite in order to safeguard their properties from untoward incidents, especially fires.

About 100 of them turned up for the ‘History Repeats Itself – Cause and Effect of Fire in the Historical Precinct of Old Kuching’ public briefing and dialogue session at the Old Courthouse on Friday.

Organising chairperson Datuk Wee Hong Seng said it was necessary for everyone to be actively involved to fire-proof their livelihood.

“We know how much our properties are worth now and how much is the rental value we are able to get each month. However, if we cannot protect our properties then the value is temporary,” he said as a matter-of-factly.

“We are not only the owners or the stakeholders of the properties, but also the custodians of Kuching’s most important heritage site.”

Wee cited examples of past fires, from the Great Fire of Kuching in 1884 where fire gutted 196 shophouses and partially destroyed six to the 2009 fire that razed six units of shophouses at Gambier Street.

“Since then, there had been six reported cases of fire to shophouses at scattered locations throughout the historical precinct of Old Kuching,” he pointed out

“Fire is the biggest threat to heritage properties, and if we were to speak with one voice we will be able to express our views and constructive proposals to the state government.”

During the gathering, speaker Celine Lim dwelled on the importance of cultural and historical heritages and how they are vulnerable to both natural and man-made disasters.

Architect Mike Boon, who plays a crucial role in helping to rebuild the gutted Gambier Street shophouses, also shed light on the long process that the rebuilding committee went through – from getting the owners’ approval and addressing issues concerning policies and regulations to design considerations in order to retain the character of Old Kuching.

During the question-and-answer session, state Fire and Rescue Services Department (Bomba) director Nor Hisham Mohammad said it was standard operating procedure for them to inspect fire hydrants once a year.

“In Sarawak, RM700,000 is used per year for repair of hydrants that have been vandalised or stolen,” he sighed.

“Right now, the number of hydrants around Kuching City is sufficient. We have plans to replace old hydrants and increase our servicing rate to twice annually for the historical precinct of Old Kuching.”

Nor Hisham issued a reminder that all commercial premises must have fire extinguishers.

“The general rule-of-thumb is to have one fire extinguisher for every 100 square metres.”

Wee told reporters after the session that there would be follow-up dialogues to ensure that Old Kuching is well preserved.

The session was co-organised by Malaysian Architect Association (PAM) Sarawak Chapter, Sarawak Heritage Society, Indian Street Pedestrian Mall Committee, Old Market Community Association and Kuching City Centre Community Association.

Also in attendance were representatives from Bomba and city councils.