One in 14 buildings are potential death traps

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 March, 2012, 12:00am


One in every 14 buildings checked for fire hazards is a potential death trap, the Fire Services Department warned yesterday following safety inspections prompted by last year's blaze at a Mong Kok market that left nine people dead.

Eleven out of 157 mixed-use buildings at markets across the city presented fire hazards, according to the department.

'Obstructed escape routes were found in these buildings,' its spokesman said, adding that a further 182 buildings were due for inspection.

He said fire hazard abatement notices had been issued requesting owners and tenants to make improvements. Failure to do so within a specified time could result in prosecution.

The death toll from the blaze at Mong Kok's Fa Yuen Street on November 30 made it Hong Kong's deadliest fire in 15 years. A further 34 people were injured in the fire, which broke out in the early hours and spread to six blocks of flats.

Many residents were trapped in the flames and dense smoke as rows of market stalls on both sides of the road caught fire, cutting off exits. More than 300 firemen took about eight hours to douse the flames and rescue survivors.

The nine victims were found collapsed on a staircase shared by two eight-storey buildings at 192 and 194 Fa Yuen Street, where seven of the 14 flats had been subdivided into tiny dwellings.

As a result, the Buildings Department targeted 339 similar buildings looking for fire hazards and illegal building works to subdivide flats. All but 70 of them are in the Sham Shui Po and Yau Tsim Mong districts and the checks are scheduled to be completed by the middle of the year.

In the Mong Kok blaze, arson was initially suspected when firemen found two rows of stalls had started burning at the same time, but police now believe an electrical fault was the cause. Officers are helping the Coroner's Court prepare for an inquest into the deaths.

Yesterday the Fire Services Department, which also set up a special unit to investigate the blaze, said its initial investigation had been completed.

'We are now waiting for the government laboratory test reports and opinions from our experts to compile a full report,' its spokesman said.