Fire Sweeps Borneo Town

This was the newspaper clipping title published on The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, 9th of March 1953. The photos below are so vivid and intense that we can almost hear people shouting for help

Fire at the town padang

Tawau had gone through many infernos since it was founded in 1898 but this fire was so big that it almost burned Tawau to the ground.

According to the news, it only took 37 minutes for the fire to burn 133 shops and houses, 6 government buildings which includes a police station and post office at the town padang.

The Great Tawau Inferno

The fire was spotted around 3.30pm at Dunlop Street. Almost all structures were made of wood so they burn very easily. The roofs or “atap” were made of ‘nipah’ so they were also very flammable.

Another possible factor is due to the weather as Tawau is usually drier during the month of March-April.

People trying to rescue everything they can

Teck Guan Company, the biggest conglomerate company in Tawau back then (and it is still until today) was also perished.

The aftermath

There was one casualty and 1,272 people were displaced. They were sheltered temporarily at government schools and at the market.

Tawau was rebuilt after the great fire

After the great fire, Tawau was rebuilt with proper wooden structures and timbers from nearby jungle. Some shops were relocated to Jalan Kuhara where they still exist until today. The wooden shophouses you see at Jalan Chester and Jalan Dunlop today are the legacy from this historical but unfortunate event.