Firefighters took nine hours to put out the blaze that consumed the Ramayana department store in Pasar Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, on Friday.
The operation was hamstrung by an inadequate water supply, forcing firefighters to seek an alternative source from the nearby Pesanggrahan River.
The fire in the store, located at the top of the three-story structure, began at about 6:30 a.m. on Friday and was only extinguished at around 3:30 p.m.
The Jakarta Fire Department dispatched at least 50 fire trucks to the scene, calling them in from South, West, Central and East Jakarta.
Firefighters told the Jakarta Globe that the low water level was a serious obstacle in battling the blaze.
“A minimal water supply was hindering us in extinguishing the fire. If the water ran out, we would have to take water from Pasar Cipulir, which is located about a kilometer from Pasar Kebayoran Lama,” said Saroni, one of firefighters.
Moreover, strong winds and abundant flammable goods in the store fueled the flames.
Firefighters also had difficulty entering the store because the door was locked and all the windows were covered with iron bars. One firefighter was even briefly trapped inside the structure, though he was rescued by his partner and escaped without injury.
“After the firefighter got stuck inside the store, the rest of the firefighters became more careful in extinguishing the fire. We also have to pay attention to our own safety when extinguishing fires. We don’t want any firefighters to become the victim of a fire,” Saroni said.
There were no reports of injuries, but at 12:30 p.m. a large explosion, most likely caused by an gas canister, caused windows to shatter and walls to collapse, sending spectators fleeing.
A Ramayana executive was reported by Kompas.com as saying that the store had suffered at least Rp 7 billion ($770,000) in losses, although it was insured.
The cause of the fire was not yet known by press time. According to Agung, an eyewitness who also works as a security guard at the Kebayoran Lama market, the fire was likely caused by a short circuit in an air conditioning unit. He said the fire spread quickly from there and ripped through the entire store, fueled by flammable material such as clothing. Most small traders with shops on the first and second floors were unable to rescue their merchandise and were blocked by police from entry because of the risk of injury.
“For safety reasons, police and the fire department prohibited all of the traders from entering the store for any reason,” Saroni said.
Despite efforts to hold back vendors, panic broke out as the fire spread to other floors. Shop owners scrambled to remove goods from the building until police forced them to evacuate amid fears that the upper floors would collapse.
Owners of jewelry stores, which the market is known for, were particularly distraught about their losses.
“That morning I was on duty at the market, and suddenly I saw the fire growing. Then I asked for help from people near the market,” Agung said.
This is the fourth major fire in the capital in a month. The fire-prone subdistrict of Tambora in West Jakarta saw more than a hundred homes go up in flames on March 18 due to a suspected electrical short circuit.
A week earlier, a fire consumed the Swallow sandal factory in West Jakarta, killing four people, while another blaze damaged 250 kiosks and 80 stalls in Pasar Senen, Central Jakarta.