Old buildings in Hong Kong should ‘at least meet standards set two decades ago’ says surveyor after second deadly fire in 14 months

Vincent Ho’s call came as little progress has been made in improving fire safety measures in old buildings since two firefighters were killed in blaze at mini-storage facility in Kowloon Bay last June

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 11:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 12:34am

Hong Kong’s old industrial ­buildings need a fire safety facility upgrade and should at least meet standards set two decades ago, a veteran surveyor warned after a deadly blaze in a 45-year-old ­industrial building .

Vincent Ho Kui-yip’s call came as little progress has been made in stepping up fire safety measures in old industrial buildings more than a year after two firefighters were killed in a blaze at a mini-storage facility in Kowloon Bay last June.

The city’s security chief, John Lee Ka-chiu, said on Sunday that the government planned to table a draft bill aiming to improve fire safety equipment in old industrial buildings in the coming legislative year, after a fire at Mai Sik Industrial Building in Kwai Chung killed three people on Saturday.

The 6,000-sq ft unit on the 10th floor where the fire broke out had been subdivided into 17 separate rooms, and a preliminary investigation carried out by the Buildings Department found some of the alteration work had failed to meet the safety standards for fire escapes and fire-resistant construction.

The Lands Department also confirmed yesterday that the owner of the unit – Profit Tone Hong Kong Group – had violated land lease conditions by changing land use without applying for ­approval.

The building is among 481 factories built before 1973 that are not subject to the requirements for fire safety facilities, such as an automatic sprinkler system. It was built in 1972.

A Post visit found that subdivided offices in industrial buildings were common around the neighbourhood. In Mai Sik alone, there were at least five or six floors that had units cut up into smaller offices.

Some of the subdivisions appeared to be decorated lavishly with wood-panelled floors, false ceilings and indirect lighting. ­Others were more austere, with simple paint jobs and tiled floors.

Ho said the Fire Services Department officials told him they intended to refer to fire-resistant construction guidelines from 1996, which stipulated buildings should install facilities such as certified fire-resistant doors, an automatic sprinkler system and a fire alarm system, when drafting the bill.

“[The standard] would be a huge improvement on fire safety,” Ho said. “You can’t ask old buildings to keep up with the most up-to-date designs, but [the standard] is a good way to force them to improve.”

The risks of these buildings was already made clear last June, when two firefighters died battling a blaze at a mini-storage warehouse in Kowloon Bay. The facility was made up of subdivided cubicles leased to individuals, adding to the difficulty of firefighting efforts, which lasted for 108 hours.

Ho said short-term measures should be adopted before legislation, which could take years. The interim measures would include rehousing those living in risky subdivided homes, enhancing inspections of these buildings and educating tenants on how to use the units safely.

It was understood one of the male victims in the Saturday fire used the space as a “hang-out” for drinking and singing karaoke with friends. He was also a part-time bartender and magic enthusiast who enjoyed mixing drinks and experimenting with flammable phosphorus powders in the flat.

Chow Chun-fai, a spokesman for Factory Artists Concern Group, said many artists were forced to move into industrial buildings by skyrocketing rents and he hoped the government would cater to the arts in industrial building use.

He said the government had been cracking down harder on small industrial building tenants without actively finding a solution for the art industry.

“It will only make things worse,” he said.