City blaze prompts safety fears

City blaze prompts safety fears

SPRINKLER PROBLEMS IN BUILDING, FIRE REGULATIONS FOR OLD STRUCTURES TO BE RE-EXAMINED

A massive fire erupted at the 13-storey Fico Place building in the busy commercial area of Sukhumvit Soi 21 yesterday sparking concerns about the safety of old buildings in the city.

JUST ADD WATER: Paper and debris fly out of shattered office windows as a fire rages in the upper floors of the Fico Place building on Sukhumvit Soi 21.PHOTO: PATIPAT JANTHONG

The fire started about 2.30pm on the seventh floor of the office building on Asok Road before rapidly spreading up to the 13th floor.

Thirachon Manomaipibul, deputy Bangkok governor for civil engineering, claimed the building had an inadequate sprinkler system.

Asok Road was closed as fire-fighters rushed to tackle the blaze.

No casualties were reported. About 50 people working in the building were evacuated. The intense heat caused the glass exterior to shatter which sent shards hurtling to the pavement.

Fire-fighters spraying water often had to back away from the building to avoid being hit by falling glass fragments.

Once inside, they had to break their way through doors to bring fire hoses into the building.

Police said it was a slow process to control the fire because the first few cranes to arrive were not tall enough for the water spraying operation.

Some large fire engines could not get close to the building as the street was too narrow. At least 30 fire engines were called to the scene.

The blaze was brought under control about 4.25pm. The closure of Asok Road, one of the city's main routes, paralysed traffic into the area for hours.

Security guard Sunthorn Jamrern, 44, said he was working on the ground floor when he heard workers above shout in distress. The building is normally quiet on the weekend.

Mr Sunthorn rushed to the seventh floor and saw a fire. He then alerted people in the upper floors to vacate the building.

Pol Col Rattasak Raksalam, chief of Thong Lor police station, said the cause of the fire has not been determined.

He said an electrician at the building had recently replaced electrical wiring on the seventh floor.

Sajja Khontrong, chief of Wattana district, said Fico Place, which was built in 1979, houses about 20 company offices.

Mr Thirachon said the building was constructed before the Building Safety Control Act of 1992 came into effect.

The act made adequate water sprinklers compulsory. Mr Thirachon claimed the building's substandard sprinkler system led to the blaze spreading rapidly.

Fico Place will be closed until necessary improvements are made in line with the safety control act. Damage to the building has not been assessed.

The deputy governor said City Hall was seeking cooperation from owners of pre-1992 buildings to improve internal fire-fighting and warning systems.

If necessary, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) will approve mandatory measures to modernise safety features of Bangkok buildings.

Another deputy Bangkok governor, Malinee Sukvejvorakij, said forensic science experts and the BMA's civil engineers will inspect the structural strength of the building after the fire.

"It has yet to conclude whether the building breached any law," she said.

Ms Malinee said many high-rises were located in small sois which are too narrow for fire engines to get into. She said the BMA would "pay serious attention to the issue".

She said city regulations restricted the construction of tall buildings in narrow streets. However, some owners have tiptoed around the regulations. Physical layouts of the buildings are adjusted to avoid qualifying them as "tall buildings" which would subject them to strict controls and inspections.

Krit Srichawla, chief executive of Fico Corporation, the building owner, said all damages were covered by insurance. An office owner at the base of the building said she had not a fire drill take place there in at least five years.

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