27 October 2016
Two days after a blaze broke out at an industrial building in Kowloon Bay, firefighters are still struggling to put out the flames completely. Photo: Xinhua
Two days after a blaze broke out at an industrial building in Kowloon Bay, firefighters are still struggling to put out the flames completely. Photo: Xinhua

Govt vows to step up fire safety as Kowloon Bay blaze continues

The government has vowed to launch a full-scale inspection on all mini-storage facilities in the city following a deadly blaze at an industrial building in Kowloon Bay.

Security Secretary Lai Tung-kwok told lawmakers Wednesday that authorities will take three measures quickly to ensure that fire accidents such as the one that began Tuesday do not recur.

In the first step, the Fire Services Department, along with the Buildings Department, Lands Department, Labour Department and some other agencies, will carry out thorough inspections on all storage facilities, he said.

The checks will be aimed at determining if the facilities are following all the safety regulations.

If lapses are uncovered, there will be follow-up action that will include fire hazard abatement notices and even prosecution, Lai said.

Second, the Security Bureau will lead a cross-departmental task force to study ways to enhance fire safety at mini-storage units and similar facilities, the official said.

And lastly, the government will hold consultations with people from the fire safety industry on short and mid-term solutions against accidents, Lai said.

The government will consider amending some ordinances if deemed necessary, he added.

The comments came as a fourth-alarm blaze that killed a firefighter and injured several others at a Kowloon Bay building continues to rage almost 48 hours after it began on Tuesday. 

The fire department is struggling to douse the fire as it has spread to another floor at the Amoycan Industrial Center after starting initially at a unit rented by SC Storage, a provider of low-cost self storage facilities.

While authorities have been jolted by the accident, they cannot escape blame, given the fact that they haven’t monitored the storage units in the city properly nor regulated them well, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen, who represents the functional constituency of architecture, surveying and planning, said many mini-storage facilities might be illegal as they are located in industrial buildings which were meant to serve only manufacturers.

He called for more manpower for the Buildings Department and the Lands Department so that the agencies can step up oversight on industrial buildings.

SC Storage, meanwhile, said in a statement that it has formed a team to check fire safety at all its facilities.

The company said it is contacting the customers whose storage units were affected by Tuesday’s accident.

As the government scrambles to ease the public’s concerns, firemen were still struggling to put out the blaze completely as of early morning Thursday, nearly two days after it broke out around 11 am Tuesday.

Nine firemen who were sent to hospital earlier for smoke inhalation or dehydration have been discharged.

Asked if dust explosion is likely to happen and cause serious casualties, like what happened a year ago in an incident at an amusement park in Taiwan, the fire department declined to give a straight answer.

According to reports, officials found that an SC Storage customer who rented a unit on the fourth floor of the Kowloon Bay building had stored a large amount of milk powder in the unit. 

Two care homes for the elderly, New Kiu Nursing Home and Tak Bo Nursing Center, which are close to the Amoycan Industrial Center, conducted emergency evacuation for their 300 residents at 9 pm on Wednesday.

The senior citizens were picked up by their families or transported to other facilities.

A supermarket nearby has also been closed.

Lau Chun-man, a structural engineer at the Buildings Department, said Wednesday after inspecting the fire accident site that there doesn’t seem to be a danger of the 8-floor building collapsing.

However, the site may need to be cordoned off, he said.

The blaze has left a 30-year-old firefighter named Cheung Yiu-sing, who holds a degree from the University of Hong Kong, dead. 

Following the news, HKU vice chancellor Peter Mathieson wrote a condolence message for the officer’s family.

Meanwhile, some citizens have launched fund-raising campaigns to help Cheung’s wife and his four-month-old baby.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Some citizens have launched a fund-raising campaign to help the family of a firefighter killed in the Kowloon Bay blaze. Photo: HKEJ

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