Wednesday, November 30, 2011

scmp: Arson suspected in fatal Mong Kok fire





Arson suspected in fatal Mong Kok fire

At least nine people died and 30 were injured, including a one-year-old baby, in a suspicious fire on Wednesday morning that tore through roadside stalls in Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, engulfing nearby old tenement buildings.
Police did not rule out the possibility of arson. Crime squad officers are investigating its cause.

The fire, which broke out at 4.40am, was brought under control at 11.11am before finally being extinguished at 1.28pm. The fire scene was closed off at 2pm - with hoses still spraying water on nearby buildings in case there were sparks.

The Fire Services Department, which used 12 water jets and 12 breathing apparatus teams to fight the blaze, upgraded the fire alarm from No 3 to No 4 – the second-highest category.

Four charred bodies were found at the staircase of two tenement buildings nearby. Three males and six females were believed to have been killed in the blaze, police said at the scene.

Anna Tsang Yim-sheung, Mong Kok police deputy-district commander, said the fire was suspicious and did not rule out the possibility of arson.

“We will consider all the evidence. This is a very serious offence. We will use all our resources to investigate,” she said.

Acting chief fire officer for Kowloon Sze To Yat-san said: “When we arrived, the fire was very serious. On one hand, we had to put it out. On the other, many residents called for help. We deployed some officers to stage a rescue operation.

“We need a large number of firefighters in a short period of time. So we upgraded the fire alarm from category three to four,” he said.

“The smoke was thick and the stench was heavy. I could hear people screaming for help. I heard the sound of explosions, too,” one male resident said.

At least 13 injured residents were sent to Kwong Wah Hospital. A 23-year-old man was in a critical condition, while a 27-year-old woman was still receiving emergency treatment. Others were rushed to Princess Margaret Hospital, Tung Wah Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen expressed his sadness – after visiting victims in Kwong Wah Hospital.

“This is not the first time. Last year there was also a fire in Fa Yuen Street. It was discussed in the District Council. We have taken measures to separate the [hawkers'] booths from the residential blocks.

“We have also restricted the amount of stock stored [in the stalls] and the expansion [of the stalls]. We have done all these things, but apparently this is not enough.

“We need to review these measures to prevent similar incidents happening again,” he said.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong expressed his condolences to the victims and their families after visiting the scene with Director of Fire Services Andy Chan Chor-kam.

Firefighters are still searching for residents and bodies.

Earlier, detectives from the West Kowloon crime unit visited the scene. Government chemists arrived around 1pm to investigate.

At 1pm, local residents still could not go home, so they sat and waited at the scene.

Acting-secretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai said at least 70 families had registered at three inter-departmental help desks set up by the government. Residents and families should call tel: 2399-2159 for assistance.

Boundary Street Stadium has been opened to provide shelter for affected families.

Police also set up a hotline: 2398-6329 for inquiries about casualties. Witnesses can also call to provide information.

It is not the first time hawker stalls in Fa Yuen Street have caught fire. In December last year, some stalls near the scene began burning. The fire developed into a category 3 blaze, injuring six and destroying 80 stalls. Some 200 residents were evacuated. Stall owners suffered a loss of more than HK$20 million.

A 33-year-old man was arrested for a series of arsons afterwards, including fires in Nathan Road, Fa Yuen Street, Sai Yeung Choi Street North and Cheung Sha Wan Road.

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