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A fiery warning

Feb 07,2017
A fire over the weekend sent chills down my spine. A blaze that erupted in a children’s play zone on the third floor of a mall in a high-rise residential-commercial complex in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, on Saturday, killed four and injured nearly 50. Residents of 1,266 households living in the residential sections of the complex comprising of skyscrapers of 55 to 66 floors had to be evacuated. A catastrophe of unimaginable consequence could have happened if the fire had spread.

The fire was completely quenched within an hour or so, but the casualty was big considering that the fire affected a relatively small space of 264 square meters (2,842 square feet). According to the fire law, a kids’ zone should have been made out of nonflammable materials. But since there was no regulation on the use of interior design, the interior of the play zone was made out of a spongy substance to resemble a popular animated character’s village.

The smoke killed two women in a nearby skin care clinic. Police also suspect the cause could have originated from welding work or a gas leak. Witnesses say the fire alarm had not rung, nor did the sprinklers work.

The fire should not be taken lightly. It should raise alarm about the safety of residential-commercial high-rises. According to fire authorities, there are 2,541 buildings higher than 30 floors and 85 that are more than 50 floors high across the nation. Fire ladders mostly reach up to the 17th floor. In advanced countries, most ladders can go up as high as 60 meters. In Korea there is only one that can reach that height, and at 68 meters it can only reach 25 floors.

Authorities must come up with fast fire-fighting measures for high-rises. The special law that was drawn up in October 2010 after a fire in a 38-floor building in Busan is insufficient. Authorities must toughen safety regulations on all buildings, including the installation of emergency elevators in case of fire.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 6, Page 30