120 flee as choking smoke fills block

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2007, 12:00am

About 120 public housing tenants fled a fire and choking smoke in a Lok Fu Estate block in Kowloon yesterday. The situation was chaotic as residents, many elderly, were evacuated from Wang Hong House after the blaze broke out on the 13th floor.

Three women and three men, ranging in age from 18 to 94, were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital after inhaling heavy smoke. By 6pm, five had been discharged but a 94-year-old man remained in hospital.

The fire broke out on a bunk bed just after 10am and cotton blankets, handbags and clothes caught alight, Ma Tau Hom Fire Station assistant divisional officer Chan Man-kwong said.

Witnesses said the smoke spread quickly to the upper floors, with flames and smoke billowing from the windows of the flat.

Residents, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, found it difficult to leave as two of the three fire exits were filled with smoke. Some also heard explosions from the scene of the fire.

The Housing Authority opened a customer services centre to give temporarily housing to the affected residents.

One resident blamed flammable 'miscellaneous items' for the spread of the fire.

'[The flat] is never tidied up. It is so problematic. They have a habit of collecting garbage,' the resident said.

The chairman of Wang Hong House's mutual aid committee, Cho Yin-fong, said some residents in the building tended to collect and store waste items in their flats.

She said the Housing Authority should take action.

A Housing Department spokesman said it had not received any complaints about rubbish in flats.

On Friday an 83-year-old disabled woman died in a fire in her home in Sai Kung where large amounts of waste cans and cardboard were stored.

Timothy Ma Kam-wah, executive director of the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association, a non-profit organisation for seniors' welfare, urged the elderly not to keep too many things in their homes because they could block an escape route in a fire.

Mr Chan said the tenant of the Lok Fu flat had tried to put out the fire with tap water but failed. 'We believe that he thought the fire was put out and left the flat to do some shopping 10 minutes before it started again,'' Mr Chan said.

The department sent two water jets and four breathing apparatus teams to the scene and put out the fire about 45 minutes after it started.

Mr Chan said 120 people had been evacuated. The operation had gone smoothly and the alarm bell and other fire prevention equipment had worked properly.

Some media quoted a district councillor as saying the building had had frequent false alarms and the Housing Department had been told about the problem.

The department said the sounds could have been from an alarm being tested in the estate shopping mall. A fire drill was also held last Friday.