The Buildings Department study into fire risk confirms what is obvious to any observer walking in Hong Kong's streets. The territory has such a profusion of delapidated buildings that it may be remarkable that many more have not been ravaged by fire as the more modern Garley Building was, with the loss of 40 lives last November.
The statistics are alarming. Every year, another 1,000 of the territory's buildings are reckoned to become potential fire traps. One-third of commercial buildings, one quarter of industrial properties and one-fifth of residential blocks come into this category. According to the Director of Buildings, when landlords are shown the danger, they need no further convincing about the need for improvements.
Because around 25,000 buildings are affected, it will take months, maybe longer, to inspect them all. Unless owners and tenants take note of the findings and act on their own initiative to upgrade property, a fresh tragedy could be merely a matter of time. It is not always a problem of age, but of carelessness and disregard for safety rules. Disasters are caused because fire escapes are blocked, smoke doors jammed open, and elementary precautions not taken. These faults can be quickly remedied.
Everyone who works or lives in older property would do well to draw the attention of the management company to any infringement of basic safety rules.
This is particularly important in old buildings where a moment's carelessness can cost lives. New buildings have fire safety elements built into them to ensure that, if an outbreak does occur, it can be contained long enough to allow people to leave the building.
The Nathan Road tragedy showed how swiftly fire can leap from floor to rooftop after beginning with a single spark. If this is not to happen again, owners must face their responsibilities. Tighter regulations can only do so much. It is up to all of us to see that the rules are observed.