Lenny Tristia Tambun
More than 400 homes were heavily damaged on Monday evening in a blaze in Karet Tengsin, Central Jakarta, that was reportedly sparked by an exploding mobile phone, an official said.
“The fire was caused by a mobile phone that exploded while it was being charged,” said Paimin Napitupulu, head of Jakarta’s fire and disaster response agency. “It caused a short-circuit and the sparks ignited the blaze, which was spread by gas and strong winds. The house was made of wood and was located in the middle of the neighborhood, so the flames spread quickly.”
The fire started around 7:35 p.m. and was visible from several kilometers away, towering close to five meters high as residents helplessly watched.
People could be seen gasping for air as thick clouds of smoke engulfed the neighborhood. The fire was contained by 1:25 a.m., but 1,665 people were left homeless. About 405 homes and 200 businesses, most of which were constructed from plywood and contained wooden beams, were destroyed.
“Our firefighters found it difficult to combat the fire because of poor access to the location,” Paimin said.
The only place for residents to take refuge was in an adjacent cemetery that is now dotted with orange and blue tents. Under the tents lie hundreds of men, women and children who lost all of their possessions except for the clothes they were wearing.
The Jakarta Social Agency and the Central Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) were on scene by Tuesday, assisting the victims.
PMI Central Jakarta chairman Asep Djuanda said there were no casualties in the fire but 32 people had to be treated for smoke inhalation and other complaints. A few sustained minor injuries caused by falling debris as they were cleaning the rubble from their homes.
Authorities have erected a health post and set up makeshift kitchen to feed and care for the victims.
“None of the victims will go hungry,” Central Jakarta Mayor Saefullah said.
Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo visited the victims on Tuesday and said assistance might be made available to help them rebuild their homes.
Many residents have already tried to pick up the pieces by going to their homes and salvaging what they could.
The congested neighborhood is home to many low-income families, with most working as vendors, laborers and motorcycle taxi drivers in a nearby market, according to neighbor unit chief Sukijo.
The owner of the exploding mobile phone was taken into custody for his protection against a possible backlash.
“He was not detained, just secured in anticipation of street justice,” Sukijo said.