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Smoky city: Fire burns down some 405 houses and 200 kiosks in Karet Tengsin subdistrict in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta, on Monday night.(Antara/Dian Dwi Saputra)
Three-year-old Sugistin cried while sitting on a tombstone in Karet Bivak public cemetery, Central Jakarta.
She had been asking for her grandmother to take her home as she was very sleepy and wanted to sleep on her grandmother’s mattress, not in a tent in a graveyard.
Grandmother Sukinah, 50, finally told the girl that their house was gone, along with their neighbors.
“Just sleep here,” she said as she hugged her granddaughter, “There are no mattresses anymore.”
Sukinah and 10 members of her family were some of the 1,900 residents of Kalimati neighborhood in Karet Tengsin, Central Jakarta, whose houses caught fire on Monday evening after fast-breaking. The fire was eventually extinguished past midnight by 40 fire trucks. No casualties were reported following the fire.
According to Jakarta Fire Agency Data, 405 houses and 200 kiosks in four neighborhood units were burnt down, leaving 565 families sheltering at the nearby cemetery, or in tents erected by the neighborhood unit caretakers and the Social Agency in the yards of a nearby mosque, and in low-cost apartments.
Jakarta Fire Agency head Paimin Napitupulu said that the fire was caused by an electricity shortage in a house where a cell phone, which was charging, exploded.
“Fire quickly spread, as the house was made from wood and located in the middle of a densely populated area,” Paimin said.
However, Monday’s fire is not the first for the area.
Karet Tengsin subdistrict head Sukijo said that similar fires occurred in 1996, which also scorched the four neighborhood units, and in 2001, which burnt down half of the area, tribunnews.com reported.
Sukinah experienced both previous fires, as she has been living in the area since 1991. She said she never considered moving as the area was very strategic and offered affordable housing prices.
“Now that I have bought the house, I will never leave the place,” she said.
Sukinah said she and her husband, who works as a taxi driver, would clean the rubble from their 20-square meter house and rebuild it once again. She said she would go back to her hometown in Slawi, Central Java, on Friday and wait until Idul Fitri to take care of the mess.
“I was glad that we could save important things like house certificates,” she said. Others were not as lucky as Sukinah.
Lying limply on a mat spread over two graves, Sumarti, 50, bewailed over the loss of almost everything she owned, apart from the clothes she was wearing. “I just got home from the mosque when I heard there was a fire. But I was too late, as the fire had spread and the gangway was full of people fleeing,” she said.
Having lived in Karet Tengsin for more than 20 years in a 12-meter squared rented house with her husband — who works as the cemetery caretaker — and their two children, she never once thought to move from the area. “It’s cheap here. I only pay Rp 3,500,000 [US$369] a month for rent,” she said.
Sumarti also had her rented house damaged by fire three previous times, but the latest was the most severe, as this time she did not manage to save her belongings, as she had done the previous times, she said.
“I don’t know what to do now. I’ll just wait here like this until Lebaran [Idul Fitri],” she said.
M. Soleh, the community unit leader, said that it was understandable that most of the residents decided to stay in Karet Tengsin even after the fires that keep occurring, as the area was close to the city’s business districts in Central Jakarta’s Jl. Jend. Sudirman and South Jakarta’s Jl. HR Rasuna Said.
“The rent is cheap and the area is strategic, most people have been living here for decades,” he said.
Most of the residents come from middle to lower class backgrounds, working as motorcycle taxi drivers or construction workers.
However, Soleh blamed the residents’ carelessness — aside from the densely built houses and the construction material used — for the fires.
“They are being irresponsible, as the houses are not their own, most of them were only tenants. In the end, the house owners are the ones who will rebuild the houses for them,” he said while helping out at the Social Agency’s aid post.
Following the fire, both the Social Agency and Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) have established two makeshift public kitchens and health posts on Tuesday, which will provide for the victims for 10 days. The meals will be served twice a day for sahur (pre-dawn meals before fasting) and break-fasting time.
Social Agency provided three large tents, and PMI provided two large tents for the victims.
Various aid, Soleh said, has been distributed to the camps, including baby food and diapers. (aml)