The last remaining walled village in Kowloon went up in flames overnight amid a years-long disagreement over redevelopment plans.

A store containing metal and wooden objects ignited at around 4am on Tuesday at Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen. The walled village has a history of around 600 years. Flames reached up to five metres in height and affected nearby houses and stores.

衙前圍村起火 燒毀多間村屋【火燒衙前圍】有村民懷疑:「成晚都好大雨,冇理由一個煙頭會搞到咁」,擔心是次火警涉及「收村問題」。【衙前圍村起火 燒毀多間村屋】【街坊通知熟睡村民逃生】【火警有可疑? 村民:成晚咁大雨點燒得著】【百年承傳 市區圍村將成絕唱】跟實我哋【現場 - 蘋果突發】就知更多社會事#火燒衙前圍

Posted by 現場 - 蘋果突發 on Monday, August 10, 2015

The Fire Services Department said that there were no suspicious circumstances and no one was evacuated. The inferno was extinguished within an hour.

Redevelopment plans for the village in Wong Tai Sin commenced in 2007.  The Urban Renewal Authority (URA), which is responsible for the project, aimed to redevelop the site into a “conservation park”, whereby three relics of the village would be preserved. However, some villagers refused to accept compensation and leave.

One villager was quoted by Apple Daily as saying that he was suspicious of the cause of the fire.

“It was raining the whole night, there is no reason that a cigarette bud could have caused this,” said the villager, surnamed Ng.

He claimed that the incident may be related to the government’s ongoing acquisition of the village for redevelopment.

Ngai Tsin Wai Village
Collapsed rooftops following the fire at Ngai Tsin Wai Village.

Most of the residents of the village moved out before the fire. The URA wrote on the project information page that only one-third of the village houses were left and that they were “very decrepit”. It noted “illegal occupations surrounding the project boundaries”.

The project was delayed as not all villagers accepted a deal with the URA. In 2013 one villager, who was born and raised in the village, refused to leave, saying the URA had not arranged relocation compensation for him. “Do they want me to sleep on streets?” he asked.

A group of remaining residents recently posted on their Facebook page that they had been receiving “Writ of Possession” notices from court bailiffs. The letters demanded they leave by July and stated that the writ would be executed by bailiffs on September 7.

nga tsin wai tsuen houses photo
Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen houses. Photo: Flickr via Stewart~惡龍

Walled villages are traditional groups of structures built by Hong Kong indigenous people who settled in the New Territories and Kowloon after the Song Dynasty. Many walled villages are literally surrounded by a walls as a defensive measure. Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen’s protective wall is the only one formed from the outer walls of the houses within it.

It is the last remaining village of the “Kowloon League of Seven”, a defensive union of seven villages formed to guard against pirates and bandits, according to a LegCo document citing the government’s Antiquities and Monuments Office.

Image via Apple Daily.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.