KUCHING: A section of the city’s historical heritage went up in smoke last night when a massive fire destroyed seven pre-war shophouses along Gambier Street.Miraculously, there were no reports of any injury in the 8.30pm incident, which continued on until midnight.
It took 47 firemen from five stations four hours to contain Gambier Street blaze; no lives lost
Eyewitnesses said the fire started from two units belonging to a fabric shop, which then rapidly spread to adjacent lots to its left and right.
Among the businesses razed in the blaze were a discount store, supermarket and a sundry goods store.
A total of 47 firefighters from five stations – Padungan, Tabuan Jaya, Petra Jaya, Batu Lintang and Siburan – responded to the scene in six engines after a distress call was received at 8.47pm.
The team spent the next three hours battling the blaze as flames consumed one shop after another with no sign of abating.
A massive crowd gathered at the scene of the fire, and many were heard groaning at the seemingly low water pressure which initially hampered efforts to fight the blaze.
One of them, local lawyer Lim Lian Kee, who owns one of the affected shops, said the fire could have been controlled earlier had the initial water pressure been sufficient.
However, he conceded that firemen were doing their best and said he was in awe at how they risked their lives in the line of duty.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr George Chan arrived at Gambier Street not long after receiving word of the fire and got up close to get a first hand view of the incident.
He was later briefed by Fire Department officials regarding the operation and even ended up getting soaked when a fire hose slipped out of a fireman’s grasp and doused the deputy chief minister from head to toe.
Nonetheless, Dr Chan praised the firemen for risking their lives in their attempt to put out the fire, saying that such a job was never easy.
He pointed out that the non-existent fire breaks between the shoplots caused the fire to spread at an alarming speed.
“These very old shops were built without any fire breaks in between, and I was told that was one of the reasons the flames spread so quickly from one shop to another,” he said.
He added that the state government would be looking to see how to assist the shop owners with rebuilding.
Meanwhile, Batu Lintang station chief Azhar Mohamad, who spoke to the media on behalf of state Fire Department deputy director of operations Fahtulmuin Abdul Salam, said the cause of the incident was not known, but that fire investigators would be arriving in the morning to begin the probe.
He added that no injuries were reported, although several of his men were affected by the thick smoke in the course of battling the blaze.
Total loss in the incident, though still unascertained, is believed to be massive because despite its aging appearance, Gambier Street is still a business haven.
Last night’s incident was the second time that fire has destroyed the historical shop houses along Gambier Street, with four lots going up in smoke last year.