An electric massage chair burst into flames in a deadly fire at a public housing estate in Hong Kong on Friday, killing four members of a single family, including a two-year-old girl, whose grandfather was left fighting for his life in hospital.
A preliminary investigation showed a short circuit in the chair, which was in the living room of the family’s three-bedroom flat, was the likely cause of the fire, which engulfed the unit on the fifth floor of Tat Hei House, Po Tat Estate in Kwun Tong, and led to the evacuation of about 180 residents before daybreak, according to police.
“We believe that due to a wiring problem, a lithium battery [in the chair] overheated and led the massage chair to burst into flames,” Chief Inspector Ma Ling-ho said. “The fire spread to a three-metre L-shaped sofa nearby so the blaze was quickly spread and generated dense smoke.”
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
Ma said the massage chair was in the corridor near the front door when it caught fire, and officers believed this had made it difficult for the family to escape.
Emergency personnel responded to the scene shortly after 3am.
A 60-year-old man, his 47-year-old wife, their two daughters, aged 26 and 27, and two-year-old granddaughter were inside the flat at the time the fire broke out.
A son-in-law, 26, was alerted when he received a call from his wife and immediately raced home, according to the force.
“The grandfather managed to get out and run downstairs before rescuers arrived,” a police source said. His wife, daughters and granddaughter were unable to escape and were trapped in the three bedrooms of the burning unit.
The man was semi-conscious when found on the ground floor of the building and was taken to Tseung Kwan O Hospital, where he remained in critical condition.
Firefighters equipped with breathing apparatus pulled the three women and toddler – all unconscious – from the flat. The older of the two daughters was certified dead at the scene while her daughter, sister and mother later died in hospital.
According to the Fire Services Department, nine fire engines and seven ambulances were sent to the scene and nearly 100 firefighters were deployed. The blaze was put out just before 4am.
A man in his 90s who lived on a higher floor of the public housing block complained of feeling unwell after inhaling smoke. He remained in stable condition at United Christian Hospital as of Friday afternoon.
Assistant divisional officer Wong Kwok-chun said his team initially found four people trapped in rooms in the flat.
“The fire was violent and temperatures at the scene were very high,” Wong said, adding a task force had been set up to investigate the cause of the blaze.
Firefighters helped about 30 other residents to safety, while another 150 evacuated the building on their own.
Speaking at a Legislative Council meeting, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu expressed condolences for the victims and their families, adding the government would provide them with all necessary support.