All Top One victims died on second floor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 12:00am

All 17 victims of the Top One Karaoke fire last year died on the floor where the blaze started, it was revealed yesterday.

Apart from six victims found in two rooms, the rest collapsed along the maze-like corridors on the second floor of the Fung Lee Commercial Building in Tsim Sha Tsui, an inquest was told.

Among the dead were five colleagues from a trading firm who went to the club after a spring celebration dinner. Firemen found them in one of the rooms.

The fire started when a petrol bomb exploded in the Prat Avenue building on January 25, last year.

Senior Inspector Tsang Ching-fo from the Organised Crime Bureau told Coroner Ian Thomas the attack was sparked by triad rivalry.

Four of those convicted in the High Court for murder and manslaughter were Sun Yee On members, he said.

A manager of the karaoke club, Ho Tung-yuen, admitted triads had been hired as bouncers.

Top One employee Wong Nai-chung recalled the day of the inferno.

'I was told by customers there was smoke. I shouted 'fire' and people ran out of their rooms,' Mr Wong said. 'The smoke was so thick I could not see the entrance. I then went to the rear staircase . . . and told [customers] to run to the fire exit.' The Coroner's Court heard fire exit doors were left open for access to the second, third and fourth floors of the building.

'In theory we had to keep the fire doors closed but at the main entrance, for convenience to staff and customers, they were kept open,' Mr Ho said.

Some staff said they were not told how to use a fire extinguisher.

Waitress Lam Tsui-shan said: 'No one taught me how to use a fire extinguisher. Lai Ka-ming [a colleague] tried to use a fire extinguisher but he did not know how to start it.

'I heard a pop sound and then a lot of black smoke was coming from the main entrance to the second floor.' Firemen rescued 42 people. Thirteen were injured.

None of the fire exit signs in the building met the legally required 175mm, Fire Service Department South Kowloon Division Commander Cheung Yin-chiu said.

Of the 45 activated sprinklers on the second floor, 37 failed to discharge water while eight discharged very little, Mr Cheung said.

Some valves fitted for controlling water supply to the sprinklers were turned off.

Mr Cheung said the valves were illegal and not part of the building plan.

'The pipe workers installed the valves for their own convenience, so that they would not have to shut down the whole piping system of the building.' The inquest continues today.