More expensive fruits for Mid-Autumn Festival: wholesalers warn fire at Yau Ma Tei market may jack up prices

With stocks destroyed and roads closed in the third-alarm blaze, businesses have been disrupted

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 8:46pm

Shoppers will likely have to pay more for fruit in the lead-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival, after a severe blaze tore through a key part of the historic wholesale fruits market in Yau Ma Tei yesterday, affecting business.

On Monday morning, barricades were unsealed on Shek Lung Street, while dozens of fruit stalls made from metal sheets were still being hosed down with water by firemen. A sniffer dog was also sent to check for flammable materials.

According to Lo Cheung Wai, station commander at Yau Ma Tei fire station, roughly 30 stalls were damaged by the fire.

Some wholesalers complained roads were blocked for safety reasons and to make way for fire engines, which disrupted delivery and unloading of delicate fresh fruits.

The third-alarm fire was put out nearly five hours after it broke out over a 20-by-30-metre area in the market at 4:24pm on Sunday. No casualties were reported.

Kam Ka-Chun, a fruit wholesaler whose stall was unscathed as the fire stopped right across the street from his spot, said police gradually opened up the area this morning.

He said he could resume normal operations tomorrow but “there is no telling how much damage the fire has caused to the fruit wholesale business at this point.”

“If the fire came a week later when all the merchants are usually selling the most expensive fruits for Mid-Autumn, the damage would be far worse,” said Kam, adding that this week is the start of the prime season for buying fruits.

Yet because a large quantity of fruits lost in the flames, prices could rise in the next few weeks.

“The price of fruits [go up] before the Mid-Autumn Festival,” said Vivian Tsang, another fruit merchant. “So with this fire disrupting the market, [prices will rise] earlier than usual this year.”

Tsang’s shop is located just a few stalls away from those affected by the blaze. She said some merchants now have nowhere to store stocks because their facilities had been destroyed in the fire.

A wholesaler, who only wanted to be identified by his surname Lee, lost his stall in yesterday’s fire. He said it could take him up to three months to set up a new one.

“The fire was burning on the second floor, too. My fridges are all ruined,” said Lee, “And now we have nowhere to store the new stocks we just got from the mainland.” Lee said he would have to sell his newly arrived stocks through other merchants.

Cheung Chi-cheung, the vice-chairman of the Kowloon Fruit and Vegetable Merchants Association, said other merchants whose shops were untouched by the fire had also taken a hit because the Transport Department closed the surrounding areas temporarily following the fire, which posed a problem for merchants who need access into the area to unload stocks.

“There are quite some new stocks just sitting in the trucks. Last night, no one was able to transport anything in because the roads are blocked,” said Cheung. He said he wanted to go into the market at midnight but was denied entry by firefighters.

The same situation happened to Kam. But he also added: “Even if you could bring them in today, with water dripping all over, fruits can be easily spoiled. So we just have to wait till tomorrow to start business again.”

According to Cheung, there is a total of about 200 stalls in the market. But he remains optimistic that business during the Mid-Autumn Festival won’t be drastically affected.

“After all, the stocks are already here. The problem is just how we are going to distribute them,” he said.

Firefighters are still investigating the cause of the fire. It is understood that dangerous goods including compressed gas cylinders were found near the site.