Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fire Strikes Twice

At 4:40am this morning there was a fire on Fa Yuen Street in the Mongkok area that left at least nine dead and 30 injured including a one-year-old baby.

Witnesses said they smelled smoke, something burning before flames erupted. It was first labelled a No 3 fire and then upgraded to No 4 -- the second highest category.

It took firefighters several hours to control the fire using 12 water jets and then it was completely extinguished by 1:28pm.

Four charred bodies were found at the staircase of two tenement buildings nearby.

Police are investigating and not ruling out arson.

The eerie thing is, a similar fire happened in the same area almost a year ago in December. It was a category 3 fire and that time no one died, but six were injured. A 33-year-old man was arrested for arson and setting several fires in the vicinity.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang went to Kwong Wah Hospital to console the victims.

"This is not the first time," he said. "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 accidents happening again," he said.

However there are concerns that putting restrictions on these stalls is not enough.

According to a BBC report, the building where many of the victims lived had been subdivided into small spaces called "cubicle apartments".

That's because rising property prices have made it difficult for young people and families to rent a decent-sized flat and must resort to these tiny places that have improper wiring and no proper exits for people to escape in a timely manner.

In June this year four people died in a suspicious fire in a subdivided flat on Ma Tau Wai Road in Hung Hom. One of the victims included a young teenager who was trying to shield her younger sister from the flames. She was an intern in our office. We donated some HK$20,000 to her family, but it will never bring their daughter back.

The government needs to act now on these subdivided flats. Why are they not inspected and then shut down? People's lives are at stake here and two fires in one year is two too many.

But even more so the Tsang administration has not done enough to help the poor when it comes to housing. They have resorted to living in these squalid places and landlords have no qualms taking advantage of their financially-strapped situation.

More subsidized housing should have been built years ago but instead the government was easily seduced by mainlanders invading the real estate market and jacking up property prices, making flats out of reach of lower middle-class families and working poor.

When is the government going to look after its own people first?

We are the flesh and blood of this city. We are the ones who make it run everyday.

Do we not deserve secure and reasonable housing to live in?

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