Ngau Tau Kok fire

Mini-storage fire at Hong Kong industrial building prompts debate on declaring stored goods

Calls made for all goods kept in storage facilities to be disclosed in interest of fire safety

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 June, 2016, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 June, 2016, 10:15pm

Experts are divided on whether mini-storage customers should be asked to declare what goods they store given the potential fire safety hazards at such facilities in the aftermath of the deadly Ngau Tau Kok fire.

Fire Services Department Staffs General Association chairman Nip Yuen-fung said self regulation was too weak as they ­depended on customers complying with guidelines that mini-storage operators set.

“They may have guidelines which state no dangerous goods can be stored in the cubicles, but if all it says is if you breach it they’ll end your contract, then the regulatory oversight is quite weak,” said Nip on RTHK’s City Forum.

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“Right now, every time they want to carry out inspection, they need to get the storage owner to come and unlock [the cubicle], to see what’s been stored inside.

The fire at Amoycan Industrial Centre killed two firefighters and took 108 hours to tame. The 200 storage cubicles divided by metal sheets posed a challenge for firefighters, who had to tear them down in order to gain access to the units to battle the blaze, which in many cases stored unidentified and possibly toxic contents.

The department revealed yesterday that different categories of dangerous goods had been stored in the building.

“I could have flammable materials or even chemicals inside, but you have to be able to check that I’ve actually stored these materials before ending the contract,” he said. Nip said it would be better if tenants had to declare what was being stored.

But Chinese Manufacturers’ Association president Eddy Li Sau-hung, who is a landlord at an industrial building, said it would be infeasible for operators and owners to make these requirements as they did not have the rights or enforcement powers.

Photos of ‘unimaginable’ Hong Kong fire released for first time

“It is infeasible for the landlord or operator to have to conduct security checks every time. You can put a hundred things on a contract but if they customer doesn’t care, what can you do?” said Li, adding that it would be better for the government to take on the task.

Town Planning Board member Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung suggested a licensing system be put in place, which gave an operator and customer the keys to open a room and essentially sharing the responsibility. Ex-fire chief Anthony Lam Chun Man said the law should require operators to conduct risk assessments.

Shop owners and residents continued to supply firemen at the scene with food and drinks yesterday.

Cha chaan teng owner Ms Chan said she gave about 40 lunch boxes with drinks to firemen on the first two days of the fire. She stopped on the third day after firemen said they got more than they needed.

“This is just a small way to show our appreciation. As a community, I feel that we should really try to help,” she said.