By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
The fierce blaze that broke out in Iao Hon after midnight yesterday has left 21 hawker stalls destroyed and one 81 year old resident hospitalised for smoke inhalation.
The Fire Services Bureau said it has ruled out the possibility of arson and suspected that ‘someone accidentally left behind a fire source’ in the hawker stall zone located between two residential buildings in Rua Dois do Bairro Iao Ho (commonly known as ‘fruit street’).
The bureau said no clue could yet be found at the scene as to what the source of the fire was.
According to the fire brigade at the press conference yesterday, a call was received at 1.11am through the 999 report centre, saying that the hawker stalls of No 52 to 69 were ablaze.
Ambulances and fire vehicles from the Areia Preta Fire Station responded at 1.14am and arrived at the scene three minutes later, the bureau’s records showed.
The bureau said the fire was already ‘very intense’ and close to resident buildings when the fire fighters arrived. Residents from the five surrounding buildings were evacuated and the blaze was extinguished in 16 minutes.
Sounds of explosions were reported during the accident and the fire fighters explained that it was caused by the burning of an old-style television set and portable cassette cookers.
Two local residents, an 81 year old man and a 40 year old woman, were sent to the hospital after inhaling smoke. The elderly man was hospitalised for observation.
However, a resident claimed to a fire commander that she had telephoned emergency services at around 12:48am but the person who answered the phone spoke English.
The bureau reiterated that there was no delay in the operation and computerised phone records, which are unable to be altered according to them, have indicated that only one call reporting the fire in ‘fruit street’ was received, at 1.11am.
The bureau’s spokesperson said if the fire started before 1am as claimed by the resident, it would be the main reason for its rapid spread.
In addition, the bureau said three fire hydrants closest to the scene were used to assist in extinguishing the fire and the supply of water was ‘stable and ample’. A total of 37 fire fighters and eight fire vehicles were also called to the scene.
Meanwhile, the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) confirmed that 21 hawker stalls over three rows were severely burned.
Some were fruit and grocery stalls and others were vacant prior to the fire.
Ms Choi and her younger brother’s pair of shoe stalls at No 74 and 75, were completely destroyed together with all stock worth over MOP 100,000.
As a single-parent, she told the Macau Daily Times that her main concern now is whether she will be able to financially support her three children who are still studying.
“I also don’t know what I can do now. I’m nearly 50 years old so what kind of job can I find?” she said.
“I’ve no more money to buy stock even if [the Government] gives me a new stall to reopen my business,” she added.
The two shoe stalls had been located in the street for about a decade and Ms Choi said she had always been concerned about fire if someone was careless with a cigarette.
She also criticised the poor business environment in the area. “There is no toilet facility and no electricity sockets independently built for us [hawker stalls].”
Mrs Mo’s dried food stall is next to those that were severely damaged by the accident. She also told the MDTimes that since there is no power supply, the stalls have to ‘rent’ electricity from flats on either side with long cables draping high above to reach them.
“It’s dangerous but we’ve no choice if we want to do business at night,” she bemoaned.
“Of course I’m worried about the safety and it would be good if we can move into the new hawker building as soon as possible,” she added.
IACM president Raymond Tam Vai Man told reporters yesterday it will be arranged for the affected stall owners to relocate to the vacant stalls in the same area to resume business today.
The construction of the Iao Hon hawker building will be completed this year, Tam said, but added that the new space is reserved for hawkers from the original site as well as the cooked food stalls from Iao Hon fresh food market, but did not include those from ‘fruit street’.
Nevertheless, he said the beautification project of ‘fruit street’ will begin ‘shortly’ as previously scheduled and the IACM will discuss fire safety facility requirements with the fire bureau.