Night market blamed for big fire losses


KOTA KINABALU: The Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK) should treat the recent blaze in the vicinity of Kg Air commercial centre here, as a serious ‘wake-up call’ to better organize and clear the area of any obstruction, said the shop owners and operators.

The fire in Kampung Air.

Speaking at a news conference here yesterday, they urged DBKK to ensure that the streets there are free from obstruction at all times.

This is to enable fire engines to freely access the area in the event of a fire.

The said press conference was facilitated by the Kota Kinabalu MP Dr Hiew King Cheu who was also present along with a group of Sabah DAP leaders including its vice chairman Edward Mujie and Youth chief Junz Wong.

Their spokesman, Lee Thien Leong who is also the owner of the partially-affected De Galleria Hotel, pointed out that the losses incurred by him and his neighbour – S.L Letrik (Sabah) Sdn Bhd would not have been so severe had it not been for the presence of the night market hawkers there who prevented the fire engine from entering the place to carry out rescue operation.

“Even the Fire and Rescue Department had subsequently confirmed that they were prevented from coming in to put out the fire due to the presence of the night market hawkers. They only managed to come in 45 minutes later.

“If they had come in much earlier, they could have better control of the fire using their own water reserve while looking for the fire hydrants nearby,” said a visibly emotional Lee who estimated his losses to be in the region of RM1 million.

He said 90 percent of his hotel rooms were pre-booked for this month.

The hotel which opened for business 16 months ago cost RM4 million to set up, he said.

Both Lee and Peter Chan, the proprietor of S.L Letrik, said it would probably take them another six months before they could resume business.

In the meantime, they still have to pay salaries to their employees, besides servicing the bank loans.

Lee also recalled that they had about 10 years ago complained to the City Hall over the potential risk posed by the night market hawkers. Unfortunately it fell on deaf ears.

He added that this was not the first time a fire had started out there; the first one was about 18 years ago but it was not as severe as the recent one.

“It was quite fortunate that no one has died this time but there’s no guarantee that there will be no casualty the next time. Hence, it is our serious opinion that the DBKK should make a move to revamp the place before something worse happens in future.

“Frankly speaking, we do not wish to cause any problem or hardship to the night market hawkers but we hope the DBKK could be considerate towards our legitimate plight and concerns, especially after what happened recently,” said Lee.

“In fact, we have endured this (the presence of the night market hawkers) for the past 35 years. Enough is enough! We could no longer afford to take any risk especially in this trying time. Please bear in mind that we too are paying assessment rates to the DBKK besides paying the income tax,” he added.

He also called on the Api-Api State ssemblyman Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai who is also the Resource Development and Information Technology Minister to promptly bring up their plight to the attention of the City Hall, and to come out with a ‘win-win solution’ for all parties concerned.

“I believe he (Dr Yee) too was at the scene on that day and he must have seen and understood the situation well to know what to do,” said Lee.

Earlier, Lee also took one Kapitan Lim Shin Ming and the vice chairman of night market hawkers association to task, for demanding Dr Hiew to apologise to them over his (Dr Hiew) statement purportedly putting the blame on them.

“In fact, they are the ones who should apologise to us, and not the other way round as Dr Hiew was merely highlighting our plight,” he lambasted, adding that Lim has no locus standi to comment on the issue since he is not a shop owner nor operator.

Meanwhile, the disgruntled shop owners/operators also complained that the presence of the night market hawkers there was disrupting their businesses.

“Because of their presence, we had to close shop early at 5pm,” they lamented.

They also claimed that unlike when the night market first started 35 years ago, a majority of the hawkers now comprised foreigners.

Noting that the area has slowly become a hotel hub, another hotel operator lamented that the presence of the nigh market hawkers had caused great inconvenience to their customers where they often found their cars blocked by the stalls.

The shop owners and operators also suggested that DBKK refurbish the area in view of the fact that it has slowly developed into a tourist hub, due to the presence of many budget hotels.

In addition to this, they also urged the relevant authorities to check on the aged and messy wiring at the shops which they considered as a potential fire hazard.

Meanwhile, Dr Hiew said the City Hall has contacted and requested him to facilitate a dialogue with all parties concerned in regard to the said issue.

“I will announce the venue and date for the dialogue once it is fixed,” he said.