Hong Kong court rules death by accident in 2016 self-storage fire


Updated 05/11/22 – The Hong Kong Coroner’s Court has ruled that the two firefighters who died fighting a four-alarm fire at SC Storage at the Amoycan Industrial Center in 2016 died through an accident. Assistant Medical Examiner Philip Wong applied the legal definition and found that Thomas Cheung and Samuel Hui acted lawfully and in breach of duty but died due to unexpected circumstances.

The verdict ends an eight-month investigation. Both firefighters were posthumously awarded gold medals for bravery six years ago, according to a source.

In addition to his decision, Wong made several recommendations. For example, he said that the fire department should review their internal communication process to improve response time. In the 2016 incident, a rescue operation was not deployed in time to save firefighters. He also suggested that the building authority should consider regulating self-storage units through a permitting system and that it should be mandatory for tenants of industrial buildings to attend fire drills. At the time of the fire, an employee at the self-storage facility told authorities he didn’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, a source said.

06/28/16 – The SC Hong Kong warehouse fire was mostly extinguished on Saturday, 108 hours after two of the seven floors occupied by the self-storage business were consumed. Upon examining the stored contents, investigators found compressed gases and other substances that produced “flammable vapors,” according to a source. Dangerous goods were found on the first, fourth, fifth and sixth floors, which are subject to the approval storage regulations and the approval of the fire director.

Hong Kong law limits the amount of regulated dangerous goods that can be stored without a license. Self-storage tenants or operators who violate the requirements could face legal action, including maximum penalties of 18 months in prison and a HK$25,000 fine, a source said.

A cross-departmental task force of firefighters, police and independent experts was assembled to investigate the cause of the fire and consider the use of industrial buildings for self-storage. Debate continued among officials over possible regulations requiring renters to disclose the goods they store.

Nip Yuen-fung, chairman of the General Association of Firefighters, told a source that allowing tenants to self-report their stored content is too weak a solution. “[Self-storage operators] There may be policies that say no dangerous goods can be stored in the cabins, but if it just says they’ll terminate your contract if you break it, then regulatory oversight is pretty weak,” he said. “Right now, every time [officials] If they want to inspect, they have to get the owner of the store to come and unlock it [the unit]to see what was stored in it.”

Carrying out security checks on every tenant is not realistic, said Eddy Li Sau-hung, president of the China Manufacturers Association, who also owns an industrial building. “It’s not feasible for the landlord or operator to have to do security checks every time,” he told the source. “You can put a hundred things under a contract, but if the customer doesn’t care, what can you do?” Li recommended that the government take over security controls.

Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, member of the planning committee, suggested introducing a licensing system where self-storage operators and customers share responsibility for the stored goods. Former fire chief Anthony Lam Chun Man said self-storage operators should conduct risk assessments.

SC Storage co-founder Kevin She stated in a Facebook post that the operator made some operational errors and took steps to improve the management of the facility. “I learned a valuable lesson,” he wrote. “Thank you everyone for your support and criticism.” She said he would fully cooperate with the investigation.

She also pledged HK$500,000 in financial aid to the families of the two firefighters who died battling the blaze. Hang Lung Properties, which owns the building, has offered HK$1 million to each family and established a HK$1 million education fund for each of their children, a source said.

06/23/16 – A second firefighter died as a result of the fire at SC Storage, which has been burning for four days. According to the source, senior firefighter Hui Chi-kit, 37, was taken to United Christian Hospital at 7:30 p.m. Thursday after losing consciousness at the scene. He died at 9:10 p.m. Chi-kit is survived by his wife and 7-year-old son.

A second firefighter died as a result of the fire at SC Storage, which has been burning for four days. According to the source, senior firefighter Hui Chi-kit, 37, was taken to United Christian Hospital at 7:30 p.m. Thursday after losing consciousness at the scene. He died at 9:10 p.m. Chi-kit is survived by his wife and 7-year-old son.

Two other firefighters were also taken to the hospital Thursday night. A total of 11 firefighters were hospitalized.

Hong Kong Fire Brigade director David Lai Man-hin held a news conference late Thursday to offer his condolences and said he would not sacrifice any more firefighters. A committee will be formed to investigate the deaths, he added. Man-hin did not comment on questions from reporters about why a “more active” firefighting strategy was not employed, the source reported.

Although cracks are becoming visible on the exterior walls of the 66-year-old building, authorities claim the building is not in immediate danger of collapsing.

06/22/16 – The fire at SC Storage has continued burning more than 36 hours after it started and has spread to the fourth floor of the building, which is also part of the self-storage facility. Firefighters tried to stop the fire from spreading by spraying water on the fourth floor, but the heat from the lower floor was too intense, the source said. Rescuers have also attempted to cool the fifth floor, which also houses storage units.

The fire that killed 30-year-old firefighter Thomas Cheung has drawn criticism from citizens and officials who say few improvements have been made to the aging infrastructure since the death of a firefighter in 2010. Security Minister Lai Tung-kwok announced citywide inspections of all self-storage facilities to see how fire safety standards can be strengthened, the source reported.

Changes to municipal building codes and self-storage regulations could be on the cards after officials pointed out the storage facility’s layout and unknown contents inside the units made it difficult to put out the fire.

Buildings in Hong Kong were not required to have automatic sprinkler systems until 1973. The eight-story Amoycan Industrial Center was built in 1961. According to the source, current law does not require older industrial buildings to meet current safety standards.

The SC Storage fire is the longest blaze in Hong Kong since December 1995, when it took firefighters 40 hours to extinguish a building blaze in the Kwai Chung area.

06/21/16 – A firefighter died on Tuesday while battling a four-alarm blaze at an SC Storage self-storage facility in the Ngau Tau Kok area of ​​Hong Kong. The fire was contained on the third floor of the Amoycan Industrial Center building in Kwun Tong district. 30 fire engines and around 120 firefighters were deployed. Four other respondents were being treated at a hospital for dehydration and smoke inhalation, according to the source.

The unidentified firefighter who died was found after a 30-minute search. The senior station officer is survived by his wife and a 4-month-old child.

SC Storage covers 2,400 square meters on several floors of the building. While firefighters were able to contain the fire up to the third floor, they faced challenges due to the configuration of the units. The floor housed more than 200 units with narrow aisles, according to Poon Wai-lun, deputy fire chief of the Kowloon Fire Services Department.

“We encountered some difficulties with the fire due to the large area, intense heat and dense smoke,” Wai-lun told the source. “Each cabin was locked by the occupants. We had to break them open to hose them down.”

Water was sprayed into the facility using two aerial ladders, the source reported.

Among the tenants using the facility is Kam Siu-man, a well-known comic artist and co-owner of G. Goal Club, a local comic book store. “Perhaps our precious collections such as original manuscripts, old comics and vinyl records have now turned to ashes,” Siu-man posted on his Facebook page.

A suspected cause of the fire was not reported.

SC Storage operates multiple self-storage facilities in Hong Kong and Macau, China.

New sources:
RTHK, Firefighters died from mishap in mini storage unit
The standard, death of two firefighters killed in Ngau Tau Kok Blaze as ruled by accident

Previous sources:
Hong Kong Free Press: Second firefighter dies in hospital as storage unit fire rages into fourth day
Hong Kong Free Press: Dangerous Goods Detected in Fire Resistant Building; Storage Unit Owner Pledges $500,000 to Firefighters’ Families
South China Morning Post: Mini bonfires in Hong Kong’s industrial buildings spark debate over declaration of stored goods
South China Morning Post: Compressed gases and dangerous goods found in Hong Kong building where two firefighters were killed by inferno
South China Morning Post: Ngau Tau Kok inferno exposes Hong Kong’s historic flaws as fire spreads to fourth floor
South China Morning Post: A Hong Kong firefighter dies after battling fourth alarm blaze at Ngau Tau Kok Industrial Building


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