Sunday, December 4, 2011

scmp: Public's videos could hold clues to how blaze began

Public's videos could hold clues to how blaze began

Police call for mobile phone or camera footage of flames taking hold of Fa Yuen Street market

Police investigating last week's deadly fire in a Mong Kong street market, which claimed the lives of nine people, are calling on members of the public to come forward with mobile phone or camera footage they took as the flames took hold, in the hope that it contain vital clues.

Detectives believe the fire, which ripped through Fa Yuen Street market in the early hours of Wednesday, may have been the work of an arsonist, but they have yet to identify any suspects.

"We have received five or six such clips taken by members of the public in relation to the fire," Superintendent Brian Lowcock of Kowloon West police said. "We hope that if other members of the public have taken clips of the fire, please contact us and provide us with the videos."

In the videos received by the police there were scenes of fire scorching the stalls, but no one could be seen in them.

The fire - the deadliest since the 1997 handover - has been classified as suspicious, though Lowcock does not rule out the possibility that it could have been an accident. He said that if arson was pinned down as the cause, a cash reward for information could be offered.

He also rejected a report in a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday that a suspect, of South Asian origin, had been identified.

The government also said it would speed up a crackdown on subdivided flats in old tenements, a phenomenon which may have contributed to the deaths and injuries in Wednesday's fire.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said 334 buildings more than 30 years old would be inspected in the coming six months. They all contain subdivided flats and are near market stalls. She said officials might break into flats where entry was blocked. Lam yesterday visited a building seriously damaged by the fire. She said seven of the 14 flats there had been turned into 20 cubicle homes, some of whose walls could have blocked an escape route for victims.

The bureau will table an amendment to the Buildings Ordinance in the Legislative Council on Wednesday. It would strengthen the government's powers of prosecution by allowing the Housing Department to apply for a warrant to search premises.

Meanwhile, Director for Food and Environmental Hygiene Clement Leung Cheuk-man said on a Commercial Radio programme that the government was exploring the feasibility of introducing a demerit system for market stall operators who broke rules. Under such a scheme they could lose their licences if convicted multiple times of breaching rules.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said introducing a demerit system was a logical response, but it would take time to work out details of such a mechanism, including the number of offences that would lead to a licence being terminated.

He said a balance should be maintained between safety and guaranteeing the livelihood of grass-roots stall owners. "If we can reduce fire risks, it will not be necessary to get rid of the stall operators," he said.

"A complete ban is a pessimistic way to handle the tragedy."

Nine people remain in hospital following the fire, five critically ill.

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.

Donation methods

  • 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".

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