A MIDNIGHT inferno razed five houses at the Chew Jetty in Weld Quay, George Town, barely 24 hours after some 10,000 people had gathered there to celebrate the Jade Emperor God’s birthday.
No casualties were reported in the 12.50am blaze which was put out some 80 minutes later by a brigade of 45 firemen and 37 voluntary firefighters who came roaring into the scene in at least five fire engines.
Even before the huge dragon joss-sticks propped up outside homes for the festive celebration had naturally exhausted themselves to the stub, some 20 people, at the very least, were made homeless in the inferno.
The Chew Jetty, home to some 600 residents living in 75 houses, is the largest of the six remaining historic clan jetties which have existed since the 1890s.
Residents used fire extinguishers and piped water to stop the flames from spreading to the other wooden houses.
At the height of the fire, some of the residents, forced by the blaze to the very edge of the jetty, had no choice but to leap into boats to save their own lives.
Fire victim Toh Ah See, 58, said she smelt smoke and heard shouts of “fire! fire!” while she was in her room.
“I woke up all my family members and we ran out with such haste that I did not have time to salvage any of my belongings,” she said.
The fire, believed to have been caused by a short circuit, is said to have started at a vacant house which was rented out to a coffee stall operator who used it as a storeroom.
The house owner Chew Hai Soon, 69, planned to rebuild the house and hoped that the state government would provide him with financial assistance.
State Fire and Rescue Department director Ahmad Izram Osman said the fire was put out at 2.16am.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said he would hold talks with the department to find ways to improve on the safety measures in the area.
“We will also increase the length of the existing fire hose in the area,” he said during a visit to the fire site.
State Local Government, Traffic Management and Environment Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the state government had always placed emphasis on its fire preventive measures, especially since George Town was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“We have just recently given out more than 100 fire extinguishers in this constituency and 15 of them are placed at Chew Jetty.
“Besides, residents at the jetty villages here have been taught basic fire preventive measures and they know how to deal with a fire,” he said.
Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Lau Keng Ee said the Welfare Department had released financial aid to the fire victims who were putting up with relatives and friends.
Chew Jetty is well known for its colourful annual celebration of the Jade Emperor God’s birthday on the eve of the ninth day of the Chinese New Year.
Originally, there were 10 jetty villages comprising over 300 houses in Weld Quay, namely Lim Jetty, Chew Jetty, Tan Jetty, Lee Jetty, New Jetty, Yeoh Jetty, Gat Lebuh Noordin Jetty, Peng Aun Jetty, Koay Jetty and Gat Lebuh Sandilands Jetty.
However, two were razed by fire while two more were levelled to make way for a new housing development and partly for the Jelutong Expressway.