Fire death rate almost doubles
Fires killed almost twice as many people last year as the previous year and the number of suspicious fires jumped nearly 20 per cent, figures show.
Fires claimed 66 lives and injured 648 people last year, according to the Fire Services Department.
The fatality rate, including 40 people killed in the Garley Building fire, was nearly double that of 1995.
Nearly 33,000 fires were reported last year, a six per cent increase.
Last year the department classified 970 fires as 'suspicious' - a 19.8 per cent increase.
While some firemen fear arson has become a common tactic for loansharks to force their clients to repay debts, Deputy Director of Fire Services, John Tsang Kwong-yu, said arson was a minor problem.
'Many of the arson cases are not very serious, involving mainly naughty children setting light to clothes hanging on the gates of public housing flats,' he said.
The total number of fire reports last year increased six per cent to 32,855. Careless handling of cigarette ends, matches and candles resulted in 5,485 fires - a nine per cent increase.
While the number of major fires, classified as a No. 3 alarm or above, dropped slightly from 43 in 1995 to 39 last year, the No. 5 alarm fire at the Garley Building was the only one in the past five years.