Shek Kip Mei
It was not a Merry Christmas that year. On 24th December 1953 at around 9pm, a big fire disaster broke out at the Shek Kip Mei squatter villages which burnt until the next day, demolishing the homes of 50,000 people. Mr. Au, who survived the fire, on that night more than half a century ago, can still remember it vividly. “In fact, I was not home that night, I was out playing. When I heard that Shek Kip Mei was on fire, I rushed back home. I found that my parents have fled, so I took some clothing and I also ran away...”, Uncle Au said the fires at that time were extremely hot, like many furnaces bearing down on him, and everywhere he looked he saw fires starting!
In those days, adjacent huts would share one wooden wall between them, in order to conserve materials, so fires were passed from hut to hut easily. Most huts would also use the less expensive bitumen sheets to seal their roofs, and although these bitumen felt sheets were water-resistant, when they burned they added fuel to the flames. The bitumen sheets were light, so that after catching fire they were blown to other huts and quickly spread the fire. Moreover, the squatter areas were very crowded and blocked-up; fire engines could not reach the burning areas and the fire got out of hand rapidly.