Mon, Sep 01, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Luchou apartment fire kills 13

SELF-IMMOLATION Bars on windows, flawed fire-escape equipment and narrow alleys contributed to the disaster started by a woman who set herself on fire in a domestic dispute

STAFF WRITER

Firefighters take victims of the blaze in Luchou, Taipei County, to ambulances early yesterday morning. The fire killed 13 and injured 70.

PHOTO: HUANG CHI-HAO, TAIPEI TIMES

A fire swept through an eight-floor apartment building in Taipei County early yesterday morning, killing 13 people and injuring 70.

The Panchiao District Prosecutors' Office said the blaze was started by a resident of the first floor, Hsu Jui-chin (徐瑞琴), following a domestic quarrel.

After arguing with her husband the night before, the woman poured varnish on herself and set herself alight.

The fire, in Luchou, broke out around 1:50am and quickly spread to the upper floors.

The fire and smoke woke up many residents. Some fled to the top floor, but many found the fire was outside their door and iron bars on their windows prevented escape.

Alleys in the neighborhood were too small for fire trucks to pass through.

Firefighters began battling the blaze on the lower floors and then set up ladders and other rescue equipment to help the trapped residents.

Some could not wait for help to arrive and attempted to use the building's escape equipment. Many of them, however, were unable to hold on to the escape rope and plunged to the ground.

Firefighters had completely extinguished the blaze by about 4am.

According to the preliminary investigation, the fire started in a parking space for scooters.

Witnesses said they heard an argument from a couple downstairs before the fire broke out.

Hsu's husband, Chiou Tsun-sheng (邱春生), surrendered to police and explained what had happened.

"I argued with my wife the night before. I am a house painter and had stored lots of varnish at home, but I did not imagine my wife would set fire to the varnish to get back at me and cause this tragedy," Chiou said.

Hsu was badly burnt and was sent to the intensive care unit at the Shin Kong Wu Ho Wu Memorial Hospital (新光吳火獅紀念醫院).

The hospital said she was in critical condition.

Police have not been able to talk to her.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased and instructed government departments to help with disaster relief.

"I am very sorry to hear about the fire, and I give my condolences to the victims and the families of the deceased on behalf of the entire country," Chen said.

He also demanded that police determine the cause of the fire as soon as possible to prevent similar tragedies from happening again, and said that those responsible should be disciplined.

Chen said he hoped that the local government would handle disaster relief and safety issues well.

Chen went to the Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday afternoon to visit the injured. He was accompanied by Premier Yu Shyi-kun and Taipei County Commissioner Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌).

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