Zaky Pawas & Bayu Marhaenjati
Police on Wednesday denied reports that the devastating fire that destroyed more than 400 homes in a crowded Central Jakarta area on Tuesday was caused by a resident’s exploding cellphone.
“How can the fire agency say that [an exploding cellphone] caused the fire? Firefighters were already late to arrive at the scene,” Tanah Abang subdistrict police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Suyudi said.
“Witnesses only said that there was fire. No one mentioned that it came from a charged cellphone.”
The fire in Karet Tengsin, Central Jakarta, started at about 7:35 p.m. and was visible from several kilometers away, towering close to five meters high as residents watched helplessly. About 405 homes and 200 businesses, most of which were constructed from plywood and wooden beams, were destroyed.
Paimin Napitupulu, head of the Jakarta Fire and Disaster Mitigation Agency, earlier said the fire was caused by a mobile phone that exploded while being charged.
“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,” Paimin said on Tuesday, adding that the cellphone owner had been taken into police custody to avoid street justice.
Suyudi, however, denied that anyone had been taken into police custody.
“We are still investigating the cause of the fire and will investigate allegations of neglect,” he said. “We have not named any suspects yet.”
The congested Karet Tengsin neighborhood is home to many low-income families, with most working as vendors, laborers and motorcycle taxi drivers in a nearby market. A total of 1,665 people were left homeless by the blaze.
The Central Jakarta chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross, Asep Djuanda, said there were no casualties in the fire, but 32 people were treated for smoke inhalation and other problems. A few sustained minor injuries from falling debris as they returned to clear the rubble from their homes.
Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo visited the victims on Tuesday and said assistance could 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.
On Wednesday, another fire hit the capital, this time in West Jakarta’s Tambora subdistrict, where 75 houses were struck by a fire that occurred at 2:30 a.m. . There has not been any report of casualties, but 100 families were left without homes.
“According to remarks from the locals, the fire came from a clothing workshop. This is the second fire this Ramadan,” said Tambora subdistrict chief Isnawa Adji, as quoted by state news agency Antara.
Tambora is considered Southeast Asia’s most congested subdistrict, with 43,000 people cramped into an area measuring just one square kilometer.
The last fire in Tambora came on Saturday, killing two children and leaving 1,350 people homeless.
On Tuesday, fire was also reported in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, devastating a furniture shop and causing millions of rupiah in losses.
Since 2012 began, the Jakarta Fire and Disaster Mitigation Agency has recorded more than 530 fires resulting in more than Rp 172 billion ($18.2 million) in damages.
Faulty electrical wiring was blamed in 371 of the incidents this year.