The tragic sequence of recent major fires dates back to 1995 when 12 people died in the Hongkong Bank blaze in Shekkipmei. Since then, 40 lives were lost in the Garley Building in Nathan Road, a fire at a karaoke bar in Tsim Sha Tsui killed 17 and nine died in the blaze in a Mei Foo housing block last April. On each occasion, surveys were conducted and safety regulations reviewed, but with a narrow remit. Inquiries which focus on the reasons for one particular blaze undoubtedly reduce the risk of a repeat tragedy. But this piecemeal approach does not address the real problem, which is that whole areas of Hong Kong are a fire hazard. After the 1996 Garley fire, the focus was on upgrading old property and issuing guidelines on lift works. The karaoke fire, early last year, brought stricter licensing rules. But however effective in themselves, the measures are limited. To make the city safer, regulations must be tightened and enforced across the board. Tuesday's blaze in Tin Hau involved a 40-year-old building not covered by fire safety laws on commercial premises passed last March because the upper floors are private homes. But it would seem sensible to apply the same regulations to all commercial premises, whether they are based in an office block or on the ground floor of a residential building, as in this case. In older urban areas, with their hotchpotch of tenements, narrow lanes and ageing office blocks, every building can become a deathtrap unless it is scrupulously managed and adheres to commonsense safety rules. But all too often even elementary fire precautions are neglected, usually because of the costs involved, until owners are legally forced to upgrade. Somehow or other, the message must be got through that what owners cannot afford to do is risk people's lives. When the Government carried out a survey of commercial buildings last May, it found that the number of premises deteriorating into fire traps was rising by 1,000 a year. That is not surprising when planning restrictions are regularly flouted. Buildings still abound with locked emergency exits and smoke doors jammed open. Tightening the legal requirements for all buildings is the only answer. But it should be done to prevent tragedy . . . not as a response to it.