Suspected arsonist in Taiwan hospital fire detained

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am


A Taiwanese prosecutor said on Wednesday that an elderly man had been arrested and detained on suspicion of starting a fire at a hospital that killed 12 people and injured 60.

The blaze erupted before dawn on Tuesday at Beimen nursing facility in southern Tainan city, whose 115 patients included people in their 90s, with several left on their own to escape dense smoke that filled the building.

The 67-year-old man, surnamed Lin and also a patient at the hospital, said he lit tissue papers and threw them into a storage room full of clothes, said prosecutor Tseng Chao-kai.

Lin said he was feeling upset because he had been suffering from serious illness, the prosecutor said, adding that an initial evaluation found that he did not appear to be mentally ill.

Prosecutor Tseng said Lin was located by the police several hours after the fire in an empty house near the hospital with a lighter in his pocket and was later arrested after questioning.

Tseng said the man, considered a flight risk, apparently tried to destroy evidence and would face murder and arson charges if his statement was proved to be true.

The China Times newspaper said Lin was suffering from colon and bladder cancer.

Closed-circuit TV footage taken moments after the blaze broke out showed hospital staff scrambling to put out the fire, while elderly patients struggled to escape in their wheelchairs.

Fire officials have said that the blaze possibly started in a storage room on the second floor of the five-floor building mainly housing bed-ridden seniors.

The cause of all the deaths was smoke inhalation. The injured were rushed to a dozen hospitals for treatment, officials said.

 “The interior ministry will require all medical facilities to follow fire  regulations and enhance fire drills so they can learn a lesson from the Beimen  hospital fire,” said Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan.

Lee added that insufficient staffing at the hospital was also a problem, as there were only six workers on night duty for the 70 bed-ridden patients.

Fire authorities in Tainan started inspecting local nursing homes on  Wednesday and the health department ordered hundreds of hospitals and nursing  homes elsewhere on the island to complete a fire safety check over the next  three days.