Fatal gas canister blast in illegally subdivided Cheung Sha Wan flat

Fire rips through flat, divided into 12 rooms, after gas canister explodes; its owner had been ordered to remove illegal structures at unit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 3:55am

One man was killed and two people were injured when fire ripped through a subdivided flat in Cheung Sha Wan after a gas canister exploded early yesterday.

The fire is the latest tragedy to expose the dangerous and shocking living conditions of tenants in subdivided flats.

The flat and its outdoor podium was divided into 12 rooms. The owner had been ordered by the Buildings Department to remove illegal structures from the podium.

One of the tenants had only just moved in. "I heard two small bangs and a woman screaming. I thought it was just a marital dispute and that I should not get involved," the 64-year-old man, surnamed Woo, said.

"When she let out another blood-curdling scream, I opened the door, looked out and saw flames coming out of a room."

Woo said he ran to get a fire hose and dragged it to the flat.

A woman and her toddler son, who were living in the room next to what appeared to be the source of the blaze, jumped out of the window to safety, he said.

Firefighters put out the fire, leaving behind rows of broken windows and blackened ceilings.

The body of a man, believed to be aged between 30 and 40, was found on the lower bunk in one of the rooms. He has yet to be identified.

Police said there were no suspicious circumstances and an autopsy would be conducted.

Another man, 74, and a woman, 62, were taken to hospital for treatment.

Police said the fire was caused by an exploding gas canister attached to a hot-pot stove in the 150-square-foot room where the man's body was found.

Buildings Department officers will inspect the illegal structures in the flat tomorrow.

The department sent the owner a letter last month, ordering her to remove the illegal structures on the deck. The building owners' association also received the letter, which was displayed in the lift lobby.

Woo, who is paying HK$3,500 a month for his 200-square-foot room, is one of the 10 tenants living in Flat F, on the first floor of the 14-storey Sun Po Building in Po On Road, Cheung Sha Wan.

In 2011, nine people were killed and 34 injured in a fire that ripped through Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok. It was the deadliest blaze in the city in 15 years.

Those living in the cramped, subdivided flats had no way to escape the fire, which started in market stalls.

In June, a Sham Shui Po apartment was found divided into 17 cubicles - the smallest about the same size as a coffin - just 60cm by 1.8 metres.