Garley Building fire

The Garley Building fire took place on 20 November 1996 in the 16-storey Garley commercial building (Chinese: 嘉利大廈) located at 232–240 Nathan Road, Jordan, Hong Kong.[3][2][4] It was a catastrophe that caused the loss of 41 lives and 81 injuries.[2] It is considered the worst building fire in Hong Kong during peacetime. The fire damaged the bottom two floors and the top three floors of the building, while the middle floors remained relatively intact.

Garley Building fire
The Garley Building in 2002
Date20 November 1996
LocationKowloon, British Hong Kong
41 dead[1]
81 injured[2]

Garley Building


The building was built in 1975 before the government introduced laws requiring all commercial buildings to install sprinkler systems.[5] The land lot was bought by Kai Yee Investment Company Ltd in 1970 at a cost of HK$1.56 million (US$200,000).[6] A subsidiary of China Resources, Chinese Arts & Crafts, acquired half the building –from the basement to the ninth floor –for HK$35.5 million in 1989.[6]



Welding was revealed to be the source of the fire. At the time of the fire, the Garley Building was undergoing internal renovation, during which new elevators were to be installed. One had been completely refurbished, with another almost completed; the other two elevator shafts in the building had had their elevators removed, and bamboo scaffolding installed within the shaft. The fire-resistant elevator doors were also removed to allow light into the elevator shaft for the welders.[2]

The welding activity routinely triggered alarms from the building's smoke detectors, so much so that staff at the China Arts & Crafts store that occupied the bottom three floors had wrapped plastic around the fire alarms to muffle the sound. Furthermore, workers were found to have cut metal with a welder, contrary to building codes. Thus, when a stray piece of hot metal fell from the thirteenth floor, sparking a fire in the second floor lift lobby, no one paid much attention, believing that it was part of the normal welding activity. A welder discovered the fire, and alerted the fire department. A second emergency call was made one minute later, when a dental assistant on the 13th floor discovered dense smoke in the hallway.

When firefighters first arrived at the scene ten minutes after the lower fire had started, the fire was rated at one-alarm. It was almost immediately raised to three-alarm at 4:59PM when heavy smoke impeded firefighters' process up higher floors. By the time reinforcements arrived, it was upgraded to four-alarm at 5:17PM because the 15th floor was on fire, and was upgraded again to five-alarm—the highest level in Hong Kong, at 7:15PM on that day.

The fire consumed the bamboo scaffolding; the open elevator shaft provided a source of fresh air, creating a chimney effect that eventually rose to the 13th floor, starting another fire there. Charred human remains were found on the 13th and 14th floors. A workshop run by Chow Sang Sang Jewellery that occupied two rooms on the 15th floor had 22 bodies.[2]

Rescue effort

All in all, over 200 firemen and 40 engines were deployed.[7] A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was also deployed to rescue people trapped on the roof, but quickly left after rescuing four people as it was feared that the rotating helicopter blades were making the fire worse. The role of the helicopter was later studied.[8]

With the elevators unusable and the staircases impassable due to the smoke, firefighters had difficulty reaching the upper levels of the building, relying on four rescue ladders to rescue occupants who had opened the windows for fresh air. The flame was finally put out after 20 hours.[2] In total 41 people had died; one firefighter was killed after plunging down an elevator shaft. Another person died several months later, never recovering from a coma resulting from the fire. Another 80 people were injured, including 14 firemen.


Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten urged legislators to speed up the passage of a bill aimed at upgrading the fire safety standards of some 500 premises across the territory.[2] A special police team of 229 officers was brought in for the first time in 10 years to help with identifying the bodies.[2][4]

A census was completed days after the incident and found there were 60,000 private buildings in the Hong Kong territory at the time, half of which were more than 20 years old. Of these, 723 were commercial. It was reported that more than 700 office blocks built 20-plus years earlier, when safety laws were more lenient, were potential deathtraps.[6]

Much of the blame for this incident fell on the welders and occupants, who were not properly trained in fire drills and knew little about building evacuation procedures. As a result of the fire, building regulations were quickly revised to prevent this sort of disaster from occurring again. Since the revisions, there has not been a single year in which more than ten people have died from fires.

The Chow Sang Sang Jewellery Company, which lost 22 employees on the 15th floor, increased its relief fund to $8+ million. Each victim's family received an initial $180,000 and another sum equivalent to 17.8 months' basic salary.[9]

Cultural references

The Discovery Channel series Blueprint for Disaster documented the events of the fire and subsequent investigation, labeling it the Hong Kong Inferno.


The Garley Building was abandoned after the fire, but was not demolished until 2003, due to the difficulty of finding the owners of the businesses within. The original landlord of the building, China Resources Enterprise, originally intended to construct a "Ginza-style" shopping mall at the site, but later changed plans to build a new office building. Work on the building was completed in 2007.

See also


  1. ^ "Cornwall Court Fire Tragedy; Bill Gates in Hong Kong; Shopaholics", RTHK, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Yonden Lhatoo and Yau Wai-ping (22 November 1996) "Inferno toll 39 dead, 81 injuries Archived 4 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  3. ^ Information note – Commissions of Inquiry
  4. ^ a b Stella Lee and Alex Lo(4 December 1996) "Rescuers haunted by blaze trauma Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  5. ^ Yau Wai-ping (22 November 1996) "Survivors recount their horror ; Workers relive escape from blaze Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  6. ^ a b c Ng Kang-chung (22 November 1996) "700 office blocks could be deathtraps Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  7. ^ Stella Lee (6 December 1996) "20 firemen in line to receive honour Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  8. ^ John Flint(14 December 1996) "Helicopter role study Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.
  9. ^ John Flint and Anthony Woo (24 November 1996) "Firm raises relief fund to $8million Archived 22 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.", The Standard, Retrieved on 28 September 2008.

External links

Coordinates: 22°18′17″N 114°10′18″E / 22.304833°N 114.171723°E


1996 (MCMXCVI)

was a leap year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1996th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 996th year of the 2nd millennium, the 96th year of the 20th century, and the 7th year of the 1990s decade.

1996 was designated as:

International Year for the Eradication of Poverty

2010 Shanghai fire

The 2010 Shanghai fire was a fire on 15 November 2010 that destroyed a 28-story high-rise apartment building in the city of Shanghai, China, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 70 others (with at least one source reporting more than 120 others injured).An investigation under the PRC State Council was announced on 16 November, the day after the fire, to determine the cause of the blaze. A preliminary finding by investigators concluded that sparks from welding work being done on the building, undertaken by unlicensed welders, ignited scaffolding around the structure, which led to the apartments' destruction. The municipal government also placed the blame on illegal multi-layered subcontracting, and detained four managers from several construction companies. In all, sixteen individuals have been arrested in connection to the fire, as well as four others accused of being unlicensed welders.The week after the fire, city officials announced a compensation plan for victims of the fire and their families. The fire also prompted the government to pass stricter regulations on the construction industry, as well as increased fire safety inspections. Some citizens have criticized the government, accusing it of censoring the media and providing an inadequate response to the fire.

2011 Fa Yuen Street fire

The 2011 Fa Yuen street fire (Chinese: 2011年花園街排檔大火) occurred in Fa Yuen Street, Mongkok, Hong Kong on 30 November 2011 in one of the most densely populated area. This fire incident was the deadliest fire in Hong Kong in 14 years, and also took place around the same time as the Hong Kong Fire Services Department's 48-hour protest.

Blueprint for Disaster

Blueprint for Disaster is a Canadian documentary television series that premiered in 2004 on Discovery Channel Canada. Produced by Temple Street Productions, the program investigates why and how various disasters have happened. Toronto-based Voice Artist Adrian Bell provided the narration for the first series. The show also aired in the UK under the title Seconds from Disaster. As of 2008, two seasons have been produced.

Broadway Cinematheque

Broadway Cinematheque (Chinese: 百老匯電影中心) is a cinema in Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong, run by Broadway Circuit. Located in Prosperous Garden, a public housing estate, the cinema screens a wider spectrum of films including independent and art films than other cinemas in Hong Kong. The cinema hosts four houses with 476 seats (115 normal seats + 4 wheelchair seats per house). It also has a book store, Kubrick, which specializes in books about films, and has a café adjacent to it.

Cornwall Court fire

The Cornwall Court Fire (Chinese: 嘉禾大廈五級火) was a building fire incident in Hong Kong. It began in a nightclub and karaoke bar on the morning of Sunday 10 August 2008, taking the lives of four people, including two firefighters, and injuring a further 55 people.

Flash fire

A flash fire is a sudden, intense fire caused by ignition of a mixture of air and a dispersed flammable substance such as a solid (including dust), flammable or combustible liquid (such as an aerosol or fine mist), or a flammable gas. It is characterized by high temperature, short duration, and a rapidly moving flame front.

List of accidents and disasters by death toll

This is a list of accidents and disasters by death toll. It shows the number of fatalities associated with various explosions, structural fires, flood disasters, coal mine disasters, and other notable accidents. Purposeful disasters, such as terrorist attacks, are omitted; those events can be found at List of battles and other violent events by death toll.

List of building or structure fires

This is a list of building or structure fires where a building or structure has caught fire. For major urban conflagrations, see List of town and city fires.

Nathan Road

Nathan Road (Chinese: 彌敦道) is the main thoroughfare in Kowloon, Hong Kong that goes in a south–north direction from Tsim Sha Tsui to Sham Shui Po. It is lined with shops and restaurants and throngs with tourists, and was known in the post–World War II years as the Golden Mile, a name that is now rarely used. It starts on the southern part of Kowloon at its junction with Salisbury Road, a few metres north of Victoria Harbour, and ends at its intersection with Boundary Street in the north. Portions of the Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan Lines (Prince Edward, Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei, Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui) run underneath Nathan Road. The total length of Nathan Road is about 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi).

Royal commission

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Royal commissions are called to look into matters of great importance and usually controversy. These can be matters such as government structure, the treatment of minorities, events of considerable public concern or economic questions. Many royal commissions last many years and, often, a different government is left to respond to the findings.

Skyscraper fire

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Timeline of Hong Kong history

The following is a timeline of the history of Hong Kong.

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