The failure by the Fire Bureau and Public Works Bureau in Kaohsiung to do their job properly and the lack of action taken by them are responsible for the Oct. 14 building fire in the southern city that took 46 lives, according to a government report published on Friday, which also blamed some residents' actions for leading to the blaze.
That was the conclusion made by an 11-member investigation panel led by Deputy Kaohsiung Mayor Charles Lin (???) and lawyer Chou Yuan-pei (???), following seven meetings and interviews with local officials.
According to Chou, the fire started in a room on the first floor of the 40-year-old, 13-story Cheng Chung Cheng (???) building on Fubei Road in the city's Yancheng District.
A lot of the space on the first and second floors were not occupied by residents, but some 59 scooters and motorcycles were parked on the first floor, which caused the fire to spread. The flames were also fueled by the cladding on the building's exterior wall and inflammable items stored inside, he said.
This led to heavy smoke rising to the high levels of the building through fire escapes, and caused casualties among the residents, many of whom lived on the seventh floor and above.
The report noted that the Fire Bureau failed to take action when it was unable to conduct regular safety checks on the building in 2020 because property owners had not formed a management committee and some residents rejected to such inspections.
The bureau should have sought assistance from other agencies, such as the police, in this kind of situation, the report said. Instead, it failed to come up with a response, according to the report.
The Public Works Bureau was also negligent, the panel found. It only sent a letter in July to the building regarding the safety check after being requested by the Fire Bureau in June to do so, and did not send anyone to the site.
Although none of the two bureaus' conducts are illegal, they were not in line with the Civil Servant Work Act, which requires government officials to be proactive in doing their jobs, the report said.
Lin warned city government officials and others found to be held responsible will face administrative punishments.
He said the city government will review relevant regulations and improve procedures and conduct in the two bureaus within a year.
The panel also suggested inspections should be carried out at mixed-use and apartment buildings older than 20 years throughout the city to ensure safety problems are resolved.
In addition to drafting city regulations to require buildings set up a management committee, the panel also asked the central government to push for legal amendments to achieve the same results.
In a separate statement, the Kaohsiung City government said the Public Works Bureau will speed up work on improving the fire facilities in buildings in the city, while the Fire Bureau will carry out a program to list and check buildings that have six floors or more, but which do not have a management committee.
A woman was detained on Oct. 15 after she and her boyfriend were questioned by the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office, which is investigating if she committed negligent homicide by burning incense that is believed to have caused the fire.
The report was published after the heads of the two bureaus resigned on Tuesday. On the same day, Taiwan's Vice President Lai Ching-te (???) said at an architecture awards ceremony in Taipei that pushing for urban renewal is a way to prevent such building fires from happening again.
However, many buildings in Taiwan are decades old with multiple owners and some of them are unable or unwilling to pay for renovations, especially if there's inadequate government financial assistance or incentives to do so.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel