Coroner criticises investigation into fatal 2011 Mong Kok blaze
Fire Services Department is criticised for a year-long investigation that failed to determine what caused a deadly 2011 Mong Kok blaze
A coroner has launched a scathing attack on the Fire Services Department for failing to find the cause of the deadly 2011 Mong Kok blaze after an investigation lasting more than a year.
Michael Chan Pik-kiu said a 120-page report submitted to the Coroner's Court yesterday was a waste of paper, and the time of the court and jury.
The report concluded that the cause of the blaze that killed nine people in November 2011 was "unknown" and "could not be determined at the present stage".
The department's acting assistant director, Li Leung-ming, told the inquest that the cause remained uncertain as the police were still investigating whether there was a criminal element.
But Li and his investigation team have ruled out the possibilities that the fire was caused by disposal of lighted cigarettes, flying embers, spontaneous combustion or a naked flame.
Chan said the department had shoved the responsibility of seeking the cause onto the police.
"The department has spent one year and three months on investigation … and the cause is unknown. Then why do I need you to explain [in the witness box]?"
The fire, a No 4 on a scale of five, broke out at stall No 268 in the Fa Yuen Street market at 4.40am on November 30, 2011. It reached No 266, which was packed with flammable plastic goods, where it flared up and spread into the adjacent tenement at 192-194 Fa Yuen Street.
The fire claimed nine lives and injured 34 others including one firefighter. About 300 occupants were affected, and 23 hawkers' stalls were destroyed.
Senior government chemist Bobbie Cheung Kwok-keung said earlier the fire was "highly unlikely to be the result of a deliberate act, [but] the possibility that it was caused by an electrical fault could not be eliminated".
Meanwhile, the coroner asked if there were any rules governing when people should report a fire after Li told the inquest that there was a delay between the fire being noticed and the report.
"There was a time lapse of approximately 10 minutes between the fire being first discovered and it being reported to [the department's] communications centre," Li said.
He said the delay could have reduced the chance of containing the fire before it spread.
But Chan questioned Li's testimony, asking sarcastically: "Wouldn't it be even better if [the public] reported the fire before it actually took place?"
The coroner also said that firefighters did not take the initiative in rescuing the victims, and that the rescue work was only carried out when they heard somebody yelling for help or reporting a missing neighbour.
Li said the department received 23 calls asking for help that day, and a rescue team leader determined their severity before formulating rescue strategies.
Chan said: "If a person had been so weak that he or she could not yell for help ... or he or she hadn't had any neighbours ... then nobody would have saved him or her."
Li will continue his testimony today.