SEBERANG PERAI, July 3 — A fire broke out at Bukit Mertajam’s ancient Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple at around 8.30pm this evening, damaging a large portion of the temple.
The fire, which started at the temple’s storage space behind the main temple, badly damaged parts of the 133-year-old temple.
The Fire and Rescue Department personnel managed to control the fire by 9pm.
Fire and Rescue Department Operations officer Abu Bakar Hassan said they received the call on the fire at about 8.45pm and arrived at the scene to find the small storeroom covered in flames.
“There were no casualties in the incident,” he said.
The temple, built in 1886, was the focal point of the small township and it was the first temple built at the early beginnings of the township.
The old Bukit Mertajam township was centred around the temple and marketplace around it.
For over a century, the temple and marketplace were where the community often gathered for various cultural and festive events.
It was the very spot where the old town was started by the Huis from the Huizhou region of the Guangdong province in China more than 130 years ago.
The temple, also known as the Tua Pek Kong temple, started the formation of a five-clan committee and that marked the start of a pseudo-government for the community at that time where the committee played important roles in the community’s welfare, town planning and later on, education.
Until today, the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple committee, made up of all five main clans — Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainan and Hakka — continued to play an important role within the mostly ethnic Chinese community in the town centre.
Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim said the temple was badly damaged in the fire.
“It was reported that the interior of the temple was severely burned down, and many precious cultural relics perished in the fire,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
While the interior was severely damaged, Sim noted that the outer walls remained standing so there is still hope.
He believed that like the temple’s solid foundation and its strong outer walls, the spirit of Bukit Mertajam people will remain indestructible.
“Like our ancestors, we shall raise this temple again,” he said.
He said the fire also saw the altruistic spirit of solidarity among the people of Bukit Mertajam.
“Firefighters, voluntary fire brigades, police officers, people who were on the site, all worked together to put out the fire,” he said.
Sim will be flying back to Penang first thing tomorrow to visit the damaged temple.