One minute, a television cabinet burst into flames as a family of five slept; the next, their two-bedroom Kwun Tong flat was enveloped in an inferno.
A picture emerged yesterday of the predawn blaze on Wednesday that killed a housewife and her two young sons, according to a police source close to the investigation.
The housewife roused her husband, retired policeman Chan Wai-tong, 53. But in opening the front door to get a fire hose from the lift lobby, he let fresh air into the burning living room.
Chan broke the glass of the box that held the hose, but did not break the glass of a nearby fire alarm that would have sounded the emergency and let water flow into the hose. By that time, the flames were intense.
Police were trying to piece together the first minutes of the fatal blaze to explain why it spread so fast and caused such heavy casualties.
"Oxygen is also an accelerant and could have helped spread the fire," the source said. "In addition, there were a lot of toys, children's books and magazines in the television cabinet. These things catch fire easily."
Yesterday, the family's youngest member, eight-month-old Chan Hoi-yee, remained in a critical condition at United Christian Hospital after being rescued by firefighters from the blazing 20th-floor flat of Tsui Lok House in Tsui Ping (South) Estate.
The baby and her mother, Lung Po-king, 33, were found unconscious in bed. In the other bedroom, firefighters saw Kai-yin, two, on the floor and Kai-lok, five, in bed. Lung and her two sons were later declared dead in hospital.
The children's father, Chan, escaped serious injury and was discharged after treatment.
Lung was apparently the first to wake up and find the cabinet burning in the living room, at about 3am. "She roused her husband. He tried to fight the flames with buckets of water, but failed," the source said.
"He went out to get a fire hose from the lift lobby. He turned on the hose but no water came out."
Chan then banged on a neighbour's door to get water, but his own living room was well and truly burning by then. "All these things happened in less than one minute," the source said.
He said the father had thought he was capable of dousing the flames. "He was probably overconfident," the source said. "It's very sad."
Preliminary checks suggested an electrical fire was probably caused by an overloaded plug extension, according to another police source.
"The plug extension melted in the blaze," he said. "We have to talk to the father to find out how many appliances or chargers were connected at the time."