Nine people were killed and 12 injured in a pub fire in Greater Taichung early yesterday morning, in one of the nation’s deadliest blazes in recent years.
Greater Taichung Prosecutor Wu Tso-yen (吳祚延) said a dancer at the ALA Pub on Jhongsing Street set fire to the ceiling with his torch during a performance, triggering the blaze at about 1:30am.
A survivor surnamed Chen (陳) said that when the ceiling caught fire, it caused a fireball that the audience initially thought was part of the show.
Photo: AFP, Taichung City Fire Bureau
The bar was engulfed in less than three minutes, he said, adding that he had been sitting on the second floor near a narrow staircase before rushing downstairs soon after the fire broke out. Many others sitting on the second floor close to the stage failed to escape, he said.
The fire department said the fire was so intense that temperatures likely went up to 400°C, adding that at such temperatures, exposure for one to two minutes would cause serious burns. It took firefighters about one hour to put out the blaze.
The nine victims — five men and four women — were all found on the second floor. All of them had been overcome by fumes and had asphyxiated, police said.
Investigators and families of the deceased were able to identify the bodies using remnants of their clothes and DNA tests. All the victims have been identified.
More than 70 people had been packed into the small bar, which occupies a floor area of 30 ping (99.17m2).
Eleven of the 12 injured were not seriously hurt and were discharged from hospital after treatment, while one remained in hospital, where her condition was described as non-life threatening.
Wu said prosecutors had brought the 28-year-old performer, Chu Chuan-yi (朱傳毅), back to the pub to recreate his performance to help with the investigation.
A torch likely caused the fire, Wu said. The owner of the bar and bar employees were also being questioned by police.
The club has passed 21 safety inspections in the past five years, the most recent of which was carried out last month, according to the fire department.
Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) said that the city government “must find an answer” as to why the tragedy occurred even though the bar had passed the safety inspections.
The city government bans fire shows at local restaurants and hotels, but not bars, and now plans to apply the ban to other venues, including bars, Greater Taichung Deputy Mayor Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家旗) said.
Government watchdog officials said they would launch an investigation to determine if the government has failed in its responsibilities.
Meanwhile, the Taipei City Government said it would immediately conduct safety inspections of bars and other entertainment venues in the wake of the fire.
Taipei Deputy Mayor Chen Wei-jen (陳威仁) said owners of pubs, karaoke lounges, dance clubs and similar establishments served with improvement notices would have to bring their facilities into line with safety standards within a specified time.
The inspections will check that indoor public spaces are equipped with appropriate fire fighting equipment and that they have emergency exit routes, fire doors and fire escape ladders, the fire prevention division of Taipei City Fire Department said.
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