3 longhouse fires in 5 days bring 798 folk to their knees

A fireman seen doing overhaul work at Rumah Umpang, in Ulu Bauh Celon. 

By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, April 19: Fire ravaged three longhouses in Sarawak in a period of five days, turning 89 `bilek’ (door) into ashes and rendering 798 people homeless.

The implications were severe not only because those affected were left with nothing but one handicapped woman was burned to death while two suffered burns.

Yesterday evening (April 18), a fire broke out in Rumah Umpang, Ulu Bauh Celon, Selangau, destroying the 25-door longhouse that was occupied by 161 people.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue (Bomba) Department assistant director Tiong Ling Hii said due to the telecommunication issues, Sungai Merah fire station was only notified of the fire at 9.59pm by the police from Stapang.

The firefighters had a tough time getting to the longhouse due to the remote location, relatively narrow lane and undulating terrain. Stuck at five kilometres more to the scene, the firefighters decided to unload all necessary equipment and pumps into a 4WD vehicle.

They eventually arrived at the scene — at 1.03am.

The firefighters managed to source water from the nearby river, and the whole operation ended at 3.05am. No one was reported hurt in the incident.

Firefighters from Sibu took three hours to reach Rumah Umpang due to route over difficult terrain.

On April 15, 407 occupants from Uma Bawang in Sungai Asap were left homeless after two blocks comprising a total of 42 doors caught fire.

As the longhouse was located 250km away from the nearest station in Bintulu, it took two and a half hours for the firemen to reach them.

The fire, which started at about 6pm, completely destroyed the longhouse, which was one of 15 resettlement longhouses built in 1996 to house those uprooted by the Bakun dam project.

Just the night before, on April 14, a disabled woman was burned to death and her elderly mother was injured in a longhouse fire, which was also in Selangau.

Riti Jubi, 43, died in the fire that destroyed the 22-door Rumah Chandi. Her mother, Diah Bunyah, 80, suffered 10 per cent burns.

During the fire, only Riti and Diah were in the longhouse as the other residents were attending a funeral in the neighbourhood and some of the quarters were unoccupied.

Rumah Chandi houses 230 residents. — DayakDaily