Mong Kok fumes spread 'in absence of fire-resistant lobbies'

Flame-resistant lobbies had been removed from Fa Yuen Street block, which may have accelerated the spread of smoke, surveyor tells inquest

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 5:29am

The removal of two fire-resistant lobbies might have sped up the spread of smoke to the main stairwell of the ill-fated building in the 2011 Mong Kok inferno, evidence at an inquest suggested.

The construction of those lobbies, which could withstand flames for at least an hour, were completed at two mezzanine flats in May 2010, Buildings Department records showed.

But when investigators examined the scene after the blaze, they found the lobbies had been removed, senior building surveyor Lisa Chu Yuen-man told the Coroner's Court yesterday.

The fire broke out at open-air market stall No268 on November 30, 2011, and ripped through the adjacent nine-storey walk-up building at 192 and 194 Fa Yuen Street, killing nine people and injuring 34 others.

Senior government chemist Bobbie Cheung Kwok-keung testified earlier that the flames took 10 minutes to spread from the stalls to the cocklofts of the building, and another 10 minutes to burn through the doors of the flats. Smoke poured into the front staircase - where eight of the nine bodies were found.

The inquest heard that in 2008, the department issued two orders to get the flat owners to reinstate enclosure walls between their properties and the staircase so as to seal their unauthorised door openings.

The owners counterproposed retaining the openings; they would instead provide lobbies built with closure walls and doors that could resist fire for one hour and half an hour, respectively.

The department accepted the idea and withdrew the orders when the modifications were completed in May 2010.

But Chu said that after the fire, two unauthorised openings were found on the mezzanine floor.

The door at the No192 flat was seriously burned, with only its lower half attached to the charred frame, while the glass door at No194 was completely burned down, the inquest heard.

Other cases of non-compliance included failure to provide fire-resistant enclosures to wiring and meters inside the main and rear stairwells from the ground floor to the roof, and failure to install fire hose reels and manual alarm systems, the inquest heard.

The Fire Services Department earlier reported the explosion of the electrical installations at the ground and mezzanine levels sent smoke and heat racing up the stairwell.

Of the 29 subdivided cubicles, 16 had no access to the rear staircase. Chu said: "Deprivation of access to the rear staircase posed a higher risk to tenants."

Electrical and Mechanical Services Department engineer Ho Wai-keung said an electrical fault was found in wires running into the electricity box of stall No268. He could not confirm if that sparked the fire, or vice versa.

Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu blasted the department for failing to find the cause of the fire. The last witness will testify today.