Traders in a popular Mong Kok market street have agreed to remove all goods from their stalls after trading hours to allay public worries about fire risks in the wake of Wednesday's deadly inferno.
It's one of a slew of measures that the street's 200 or so stall owners plan to take following a meeting yesterday at Mong Kok Community Hall.
Wednesday's fire - the city's deadliest in 15 years - spread from the stalls to nearby tenement buildings, killing nine and injuring 34.
Last night police said they had contacted one of two people captured by a surveillance camera in Fa Yuen Street, scene of the fire. The 82-year-old woman had provided some information, officers said without giving further details.
On Thursday, police initially said they were looking for two men they believed had crucial information about the fire and released images.
Ten of the injured remained in hospital. Two men and three women were in critical condition and five were in either stable or satisfactory condition. Hundreds of affected residents were still unable to return home, as police had cordoned off six blocks of flats affected by the fire.
'We all agreed to remove our goods after trading hours, but opposed the idea of dismantling the stalls every night. We couldn't survive if the stalls had to be completely dismantled at night,' Fa Yuen Street Hawker Association chairman Wong Pui-ching said, adding the plan would take effect as soon as possible.
Brenda Cheng So-ngor, chairwoman of the Federation of Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Hawker Associations, said hawkers' costs would surge if they had to pull down their stalls every night and it would be less expensive to just store the goods in nearby flats at night.
Fa Yuen Street fruit vendor Mr Chan, 62, said he was worried about the heavy toll on his business and body if he had to dismantle his stall every night.
'Old people like me would find it very difficult to move things up the stairs after working all day,' he said. 'And I doubt if I'd have enough money to hire people to do it for me.'
Wong said the vendors also agreed to roll up their awnings and hire watchmen to patrol Fa Yuen Street at night.
In addition, they would abide by government rules that the stalls be 1.5 metres away from each other and that there would be a six-metre passageway between the two rows of stalls, Wong said.
Arrangements for street stalls were also on the agenda later in the day at a special meeting of Yau Tsim Mong District Council called to discuss the fire. At the meeting, Deputy Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Vivian Sum Fong-kwang will consider whether market vendors should have to remove their goods or to dismantle their whole stalls after trading hours. Other ideas proposed by councillors included installing surveillance cameras, introducing a demerit system for stall owners and stepping up fire-safety measures for partitioned flats.
Some councillors said the police should offer a reward of at least HK$1 million for information about those responsible for the suspected arson attack, a measure that deputy Mong Kok district commander Anna Tsang Yim-sheung later agreed to consider.
Tsang said investigators were expected to finish collecting evidence at the scene by today. But she declined to say whether a triad could be behind the blaze.
Assistant Police Commissioner Alan Fan Sik-ming said police received a lot of calls from the public in connection with the case. 'We are now analysing the information,' he said.
Meanwhile, another police officer said laboratory tests on charred debris taken from the fire scene would be crucial in helping police establish whether the blaze was arson. The result of the tests carried out by government chemists was expected to be available as early as Monday.
'At this stage, we are working on all possible clues,' the officer said, including the possibly that someone set the stalls alight for fun.
The officers said that as part of their probe, some of the crime squad's 50-plus officers were investigating whether there were triad activities such as demands for hawkers to pay protection money, but the inquiries were a routine task.
THE HEART OF HONG KONG
WE WANT TO HELP
Many of the families who lost loved ones in the Fa Yuen Street fire were poor. Many of those injured will struggle to pay for their rehabilitation. The smoke has yet to clear on the extent of the personal devastation. The SCMP Heart of Hong Kong Relief Fund is appealing for donations to help those affected. Please give generously to bring help to the fire victims.
- By cheque payable to 'SCMP Charities Ltd'. Please write 'Mong Kok fire' on the back of the cheque.
- By direct transfer: HSBC 502-676588-001. Please add a transfer note of 'Mong Kok fire'.