AFTER THE SMOKE HAS CLEARED

In what is considered the worse fire incident in the history of Belait District and possibly that of the country, the lives of 7 foreigners were not spared as intense fire ravaged the house they lived in.

It’s been 3 days since news of the catastrophic fire made headlines while stunned residents of Kuala Belait and the living relatives of the deceased are coming to terms with their loss. Pictures take over when words alone cannot succintly describe the intensed rush of emotions when faced with a tragedy of this magnitude.

In a rather timely coincidence, I succumbed to grief after watching World Trade Centre on HBO last night and knew a visit was due. Something that hasn’t been reported in the newspaper is that the house directly opposite and right next to St John’s School is where I was born and raised for as long as I could remember before we moved. Today, my grandma and my aunt and uncle occupy the place and they described the sensational fire and the intensity of the heat was overwhelming.

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© Jan Shim Photography

Above is that the direct view of the burnt property as seen through the old-style smoked windows as a female passer-by looked on. Though our house is separated by a two way road and further distanced by a reasonably sized front yard, the fire was so intense that it scorched the trees by the road side and distingerated one rubbish bin. At the same time, the pvc casing that houses public telephone wires that was originally off white turned brown and elongated (photo below).

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© Jan Shim Photography

Besides burnt tree leaves and warped casing, the fire also cracked several glass windows overlooking the scene. The cracks now serve as a reminder of the tragedy that shook my grandma who according to my aunt remained composed throughout the incident while making sure her important documents and basic necessities were safe just in case the unthinkable happened. Photo on the right (below) shows the burnt house through a side gate inside the compound of St John’s School.

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© Jan Shim Photography

This photo illustrates the distance from the burnt house photographed at the front window of my grandmother’s house. The leaves on the tall palm tree is partially burnt as was the street lamp that surprisingly did not collapse and posed a threat to road users.

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© Jan Shim Photography

The landscape of the T junction that many of us have taken for granted for decades has now permanently changed. It’s presently cordoned off pending on-going investigative efforts by the relevant authorities.

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© Jan Shim Photography

A portion of a burnt basketball pole along with visible remains of the property ravaged by fire and whatever is left of the BERHENTI / STOP sign.

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© Jan Shim Photography

Crime Scene picket line reminding the public that the the area is out of bounds. I spoke to the policemen and the Ketua Kampong briefly and left my name on the visitors registrar.

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© Jan Shim Photography

A Malaysia registered Proton Wira parked in a garage right next door was not spared by the flames that scorched half the building. Note the partially disintegrated bumper.

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© Jan Shim Photography

This vehicle on the other hand is parked right in front of the burning house and it was completely scorched save for the metal parts.

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© Jan Shim Photography

In the evenings, candles are lit and flowers are laid for the victims while traditional Chinese placement of water and food is evident. My condolence goes to the family of the dearly departed.

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© Jan Shim Photography

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© Jan Shim Photography

Related news links by Borneo Bulletin Journalist Liza Mohd on her blog

Honour The Loss .. R.I.P | Blaze Updates | Tragic … So Tragic!

30 thoughts on “AFTER THE SMOKE HAS CLEARED

  1. what is d cos tat made this tragedy happen? u hv any idea? is it careless by the resident it self or some other reason? many ppl want to know bout it including me..the polis department would’t tell any info bout it..of cos including media ppl..

    wat a sad tragedy..hope those sacrified pll will RIP..

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  2. what is d cos tat made this tragedy happen? u hv any idea? is it careless by the resident it self or some other reason? many ppl want to know bout it including me..the polis department would’t tell any info bout it..of cos including media ppl..

    I believe as investigations are on-going it’s inappropriate to divulge information that isn’t yet conclusive. I’m certain a report would be made available in due course so the families have proper closure.

    r u taking d photo from ur uncle house at d side of d burnout house? (pic 1)

    the first picture shows the front of the burnt house from my grandmother’s house which is directly in front of it. St John’s School is located diagonally across from the wreckage.

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  3. Clearly the best reporting on the unfortunate event I have read so far. I like the eye for detail and the approach from a totally different angle from the conventional. Simply peerless.

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  4. the victims were all foreign workers. as stated by the media, around 17 people lived in that house. so i could imagine the electrical usage, not to mention improper wiring or overload of electrical equipment being used. yes, i am assuming the fire was caused due to a short circuit somewhere. OR maybe at least one of the occupants are smokers, and left a lit cigarette somewhere.

    anyway, yet again, your perspective of the incident’s aftermath is just so… inspiring. thank you for this post.

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  5. Jan,

    As usual, you have taken a regular news story, and through your words and fantastic camera work, put your own spin on it and made us feel like we were there. I am so sorry that this struck so close to home, but I am glad none of your family were hurt. I have had your site opened up for me at work where I can see it now, and will be checking it daily. Good to catch up with you last night also.

    Keep up the good work my friend…..

    mike

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  6. I pass by that road quite often when I was still living in KB and never imagine such a tragic thing can happen.

    Having 7 people killed in that house is really a tragic and having the thought of them burnt alive is really scary and sad.

    Would like to convey my condolences to the family, friends and relatives of whom their loved one perish in the horrific accident.

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  7. I have heard that the firefighters arrived 55 min after the fire started. Neighbors call 3 times until they pick up the calls.

    The victims would have survived if the BOMBA respond quicker to this kind of emergency.

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  8. My God!! It was so scary.. i can’t imagine that.

    My grandma, aunt and uncle were first hand witnesses as the fire turned into a blazing inferno. I can only imagine not being there myself what the situation must have been like faced with the possibility of evacuating if something unnatural happened.

    A really shocking news. I don’t think we ever had this many casualties in the fire these few years. Correct me if I am wrong.

    I think that’s correct. The fire was by no means the biggest especially when you compare to fires at the Water Village. The close proximity of the wooden houses would have made fire spread like dominoes. This was however the worse ever in terms of the devastation and the lives it took away.

    I’m not too updated on the news over in Brunei, but my condolences go to those who are affected by it.

    The Embassy of the Philippines has been notified about this post so you can be sure your well wishes are received in good faith.

    Clearly the best reporting on the unfortunate event I have read so far. I like the eye for detail and the approach from a totally different angle from the conventional. Simply peerless.

    Thank you so much! It means the world to me that someone too had the eye for my work. Even though I’ve never been in press journalism, I’ve always wondered what I can offer to the critical eye of the public that isn’t your regular reporting and SHIMWORLD blog gives me a platform to demonstrate this.

    the victims were all foreign workers. as stated by the media, around 17 people lived in that house. so i could imagine the electrical usage, not to mention improper wiring or overload of electrical equipment being used. yes, i am assuming the fire was caused due to a short circuit somewhere. OR maybe at least one of the occupants are smokers, and left a lit cigarette somewhere. anyway, yet again, your perspective of the incident’s aftermath is just so… inspiring. thank you for this post.

    If there’s one thing that the families of the deceased would not appreciate is all the second guessing about what happened. No one asked to be trapped in the house on that fateful morning so a little compassion would be prudent at this time.

    As usual, you have taken a regular news story, and through your words and fantastic camera work, put your own spin on it and made us feel like we were there. I am so sorry that this struck so close to home, but I am glad none of your family were hurt. I have had your site opened up for me at work where I can see it now, and will be checking it daily. Good to catch up with you last night also. Keep up the good work my friend…..

    In the 13 years I was in IT, it never crossed my mind how one day I could make a difference in people’s lives. I was never good with words when confronted and there was always a ngawing feeling that I could express myself better and it didn’t occur to me until much later that I could do this via photography and only a year ago discovered the blogging platform with WordPress to allow me the freedom to express myself artistically, creatively and also literary!

    I have heard that the firefighters arrived 55 min after the fire started. Neighbors call 3 times until they pick up the calls. The victims would have survived if the BOMBA respond quicker to this kind of emergency.

    That’s quite a serious allegation there not forgetting that what you post here is read by many across the world. Whether or not what you heard is truth or someone in the a moment of panic lost track of time when contacting the fire department isn’t really a subject of debate. I empathise that people may be angry mourning the loss of their loved ones, rumour mongering will not only hurt the family members but also the image of our country!

    One of the victims i know is a girl who worked in a saloon. I heard she was only visiting her boyfriend who lives there.

    She (Ms Liew LC) was a school mate and a friend from my short 2-year stay at CHMS KB where the community is close like family. What saddened me most was that we ran into each other a week earlier in town, no words were exchanged except the casual nod and the shocker came when a friend informed me over IM that one of the suspected victims then was her!

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  9. I totally agreed with #13 Wallie…

    How many more houses and lives need to be lost before the fire department starts to take a more responsive action??

    KB is not that big and to take 55 mins* is simply UNACCEPTABLE!!

    *unconfirmed

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  10. To All the Fire Victims,

    May you all rest in peace and my deepest condolences to all the victims family, relatives & friends whom their loved one perish in the horrific accident.

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  11. PS – Jan you do a wonderful job with this site. Keep it up. Doing pieces like this adds a lot.

    Thanks Jenison! I do what I can and I think the initiative stems from having two young kids and no sibling. I lost my only brother to Cerebral Palsy and I’m still find myself dealing with it from time to time. Deaths so close tend to stay in the heart for a very long time and one way I deal with my own loss is to help others deal with theirs one way or another, directly or indirectly.

    How many more houses and lives need to be lost before the fire department starts to take a more responsive action??

    Thanks to Brunei Shell Petroleum’s Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) culture we live in much safer environment than we ever did before. Owing much to HSE awareness, we on the whole do not get many, if any, such incidents to be able to sufficiently produce a track record to answer that question no matter how rhetorical the question may be!

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  12. Jan, I realise the insensitivity of my previous comment, I apologise if it has caused any trouble.

    Anyway, please do keep your work coming. They are worth every minute.

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  13. According to Buddhist teaching, victims died of fire burning, their bardos (here refer to sou) will never rest in peace. Their souls will hang around the tragedy spot and living in terrible fear for several decades. The only way to ensure they received freedom from tragic death, is to conduct buddhist chanting blessing ceremony!

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  14. Jan, I realise the insensitivity of my previous comment, I apologise if it has caused any trouble. Anyway, please do keep your work coming. They are worth every minute.

    Your comment was within reason hence there was no big reaction on my part unlike the allegations. If anyone has a bone to pick with the Fire Department use the phone! Oh, and thanks for the last remark.

    Feel so sorry for the loss. I would love to say ur photos are excellent (which they are) but I shall leave that for another post. Given the mood of the moment.

    The Filipino community is tight! The Philippines Ambassador to Brunei, Her Excellency V. Bernavidez, visited the recovering fire victim at the hospital where she received treatment after sustaining back injury from her leap of faith. I’m certain Filipino community abroad are just as shocked about the incident. If like us, you have Filipino colleagues, pass on this blog post which also contains links to my blog associates.

    According to Buddhist teaching, victims died of fire burning, their bardos (here refer to sou) will never rest in peace. Their souls will hang around the tragedy spot and living in terrible fear for several decades. The only way to ensure they received freedom from tragic death, is to conduct buddhist chanting blessing ceremony!

    Yes, paranormal elements in deaths are often a subject of much debate and should not be overlooked when nature of death is a unnatural one. Being brought up in an environment with insurmountable evidence of the other world, challenging the existence of the phenomenon while remaining intangible can cause tangible income losses because these lost souls are still haunting the premise.

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  15. No sooner had I mentioned the Philippines Ambassador’s name, Her Excellency V. Benavidez wrote …

    Dear Jan,

    Thank you so much for your condolences and sympathies for the victims of the tragic fire in KB. Our hearts go to the families of the deceased and survivors. We deeply appreciate the outpouring of prayers, messages, kindness, generosity and contributions, in cash and in kind given by the Filipino community, Bruneians, St. John’s Church, expatriates and friends. We thank the invaluable assistance and close cooperation of the Police, Fire and Rescue Department, Labor, Hospital authorities and other government agencies.

    As we Filipinos would say it, “Maraming Salamat Po.”

    Sincerely yours,

    (SGD) VIRGINIA H. BENAVIDEZ
    Ambassador

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  16. Hey Jan, What’s the full name of the lady? I attended CHMS too.

    Photos and names of the deceased were recently published in the Borneo Bulletin. In any case, I assumed you missed that edition—her name is Liew Li Ching.

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  17. sir, do you any other pictures of the incedent… i hope more closer to the house.. i just want to see… i’ve been to that house… i know some people who used to live in that house…. i’m the son of one of the victims… please send i to my eadd. .hope understand! thank you very much sir…

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  18. I’m sorry for your loss! I took these pictures from across the road and have only these except for a couple that I hadn’t published but they aren’t “closer to the house” pics that you’re looking for. Perhaps you might find what you’re looking for at Liza Mohd’s blog posts. All the best!

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