Fa Yuen Street fire deaths ruled accidental

Relatives are disappointed with the verdict, as jury calls for more inspections of cubicle flats and stalls, and more resources for firefighters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 8:52am

An inquest jury has urged the government to boost inspections of subdivided flats and hawker stalls to prevent another tragedy like the fatal 2011 Mong Kok fire.

It also advised the Fire Services Department to strengthen the resources given to frontline rescuers. The recommendations from the five-member Coroner's Court jury came after it returned a verdict of accidental death on the nine people who died in the Fa Yuen Street market fire.

The 3-2 majority verdict left victims' relatives dissatisfied.

Stella Pang Ka-fung, elder sister of dead victim Pang Mei-kuen, said the three-week inquest had failed to bring justice for the deaths and exposed government departments' inaction and negligence.

"We still don't know who should be held responsible for the accident," she said outside court. "The inquest has just invoked our unhappy memories."

The fire, caused by an electrical fault at stall 268, broke out

at 4.40am on November 30, 2011, and quickly spread to other stalls and into the building at 192-194 Fa Yuen Street. As well as the dead, 34 people were injured.

Pang said the Buildings Department, Fire Services Department, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and CLP Power were accountable.

Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu had earlier grilled the Fire Services Department's acting assistant director Li Leung-ming on why rescue work was carried out only when the firefighters heard people yelling for help or when someone was reported missing.

Fireman Wong Chun-keung told the court that only 12 firefighters, including himself, stayed on the roof of the charred building from 5.40am to about 8am. He said that they could not carry out rescue work on each floor due to limited resources.

About 300 firefighters were sent to the scene.

But a fire department spokesman said the allegation that firefighters had not taken the initiative to conduct a search was "a misunderstanding". It said there were other teams conducting search and rescue operations in flats on different floors of the affected and adjacent buildings.

The jury also asked the Buildings Department to strictly enforce and follow up on its fire safety directions. And it asked the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to inspect hawkers' stalls more regularly.

Professor Ho Siu-lau, of Polytechnic University, said the fire was probably caused by short circuits near the electricity boxes at stall 268, where an electrician had used aluminium cables to extend CLP Power's copper cables when he moved the boxes inside.

A government spokesman said measures had been introduced to improve the management of hawker areas.