FRANCIS S NII
The remains are of what was once Simbu’s most famous entertainment hub and premiere hotel, the Simbu Lodge.
One fateful day the property was razed to rubble by fire. At the time of the blaze, it was under the tenancy of some Asians.
My mind has been troubled in more recent times about what would happen if another fire occurs tomorrow?
The Simbu Lodge was built, owned and operated by Paul Mason, a son of one of the Australian planter and famous Coastwatcher of the same name based in Bougainville, until one fateful night in 1991 when it burned down.
Apart from Simbu Lodge, Paul operated shops but moved out of Simbu some years after the fire.
According to Mathias Miugle, a former employee and currently chef of Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital, the fire started in the kitchen at around 11pm on a Saturday night.
There was a power blackout and it seems the chef, Philip Kawale, forgot to switch off the deep fryer.
When the power came back some time later, the oil in the fryer heated to the extreme and ignited. The flames leapt to the gas cylinders which became fiery missiles and were projected everywhere.
The fire spread to other parts of the building so fast that guests and workers fled for their lives with little or no time to gather up their personal belongings. Everything went up in flames.
The people stood afar and watched in fright. Only looters and opportunists risked their lives and grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on.
There was nothing anyone could do to stop the fire because of the enormous flames and the intense heat.
There was no fire fighting service available back then - there still isn’t one.
By morning, the entire structure had been reduced to rubble. The once beautiful hub of leisure and enjoyment was turned into an ugly mess of twisted corrugated iron and metal frames.
Today only remnants of the concrete slab and the brick walls remain.
As time passes and memory erodes, people tend to forget the Simbu’s most destructive fire in history. But the seriousness of the incident and the impact of it should not be underrated.
In hours, the fire destroyed an investment worth millions of kina.
As a result, many people were put on to the streets without a job.
The provincial government permanently lost one of its most reliable sources of internal revenue.
The question on my mind for a long time is how could we control a fire tomorrow? Without fire services, sadly, the answer to that question is probably, ‘we couldn’t’.
Most of the buildings were constructed in the 1960s and early 70s and are worn, torn and forlorn due to old age and lack of maintenance. Walls and ceilings are falling apart. Electrical wiring is exposed.
One small electrical spark or flame in a kitchen could set ablaze the entire commercial centre, There could be many casualties.
The Kondom Agaundo Building, the old hospital that currently houses the education division and most of the teachers’ houses and classrooms at Kundiawa Lutheran Day Secondary School are in a deteriorated state.
TNA Company has erected a couple of modern structures that could resist and delay the spread of fire, but they are not totally immune.
Most of the shops do not have fire extinguishers. When they do, they are mostly old, unmaintained and non-functional.
Kundiawa Town is famous for water shortages and water supply disruptions initiated by landowners, negating the limited number of fire hydrants in town.
The PNG Fire Service is one of the worst funded and poorly equipped government agencies. It does not have the capacity to expand its service to centres like Kundiawa.
Simbu is not the only province at fire risk. More than half the provinces in PNG are in the same boat.
With the LNG Project gearing up to go into full production, fire fighting is one area that the government should upgrade and expand.