Home Bangkok

American Priest Raising Funds to Help Khlong Toei Slum Fire Victims

The aftermath of a 2020 fire that destroyed 25 homes and hurt three in 2020 in Bangkok's Khlong Toei slum. Another fire on Aug. 5 leveled or damaged 31 houses.
The aftermath of a 2020 fire that destroyed 25 homes and hurt three in 2020 in Bangkok's Khlong Toei slum. Another fire on Aug. 5 leveled or damaged 31 houses.

A Catholic priest is raising funds to help rebuild homes destroyed in a fire inside one of the most disadvantaged communities of Bangkok.

Twenty-five slum houses were burned to the ground and six more were partially destroyed, rendering the poor residents homeless and distraught.

that Fires have become so common in slums like Khlong Toei that this week’s blaze didn’t even make the headlines or social media. A major fire a year ago injured three people and destroyed 25 homes there.

“We will do our best [to help],” said Rev. Joseph Maier, a Redemptorist priest who runs the Mercy Center in the sprawling shantytown of Klong Toei.

However, a citywide Covid-19 lockdown and the need for social distancing measures are hampering the efforts.

He said the fire started on the night of Aug. 5 when an abusive alcoholic man living in one of the shacks became enraged after his wife failed to give him money to buy alcohol.

Luckily, all the residents managed to scramble to safety as their homes were engulfed in flames and there were no fatalities.

“They have scratches and bruises, but no one needed hospital treatment. Thank goodness – because of Covid-19 there are no available hospital beds,” said Maier, commonly known as “Father Joe” in Bangkok.

The children grabbed their favorite teddy bears and dragged their old stumbling grannies to safety

The American priest has been running preschools and kindergartens for children besides helping abused women, the elderly and other impoverished persons for the past half-century or so.

“Six of our kindergarten-aged kids who lived in two shacks with their grannies lost everything,” Maier said. “The good news is our slum kids are OK. [They were] scared – they had to run terrified from their burning shacks in the middle of the night.”

Many residents in the district live in tightly packed shacks of wood and cinder block that can easily become dangerous fire traps in the overcrowded community.

“The children grabbed their favorite teddy bears and dragged their old stumbling grannies to safety. Lots of tears and hugs, but our kindergarten kids are now fine,” the priest said.

The culprit behind the fire went berserk when his wife hid the breakfast money and refused to give it to him for buying alcohol.  He hit his wife before she fled with the children, after which he set the house on fire.

“As the men were fighting the fire, the neighborhood women caught the husband, beating him with pots and pans. They had him on the ground begging for mercy, but they gave him no mercy. The cops came, grabbed him, cuffed him and slapped him in jail. Saved his life really,” Maier said.

The original version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.