By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
YANGON – A massive fire that gutted Yangon’s Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, killing two guests and causing millions of dollars in damage, started in a water pumping room on the hotel’s top floor, the authorities have said.
A Japanese businessman, Mr Masatumi Tomita, 53, was confirmed dead at the scene of the inferno, which began in the early hours of October 19 and left two people injured.
A Ministry of Home Affairs statement on October 20 confirmed the discovery of a second body on the top floor of the hotel. The body had not been formally identified but is believed to be that of a Thai woman who was missing, the statement said.
The remains were found at 2:30pm on October 19 when hotel staff were clearing debris, it added.
The statement said the condition of a 47-year-old woman from Macao who was admitted to Yangon General Hospital after jumping from an upper floor of the hotel is improving and she has been moved to a private hospital.
However, a firefighter from Shwepyithar Township, one of the dozens who battled the blaze for nearly four hours to bring it under control, remains in a critical condition. He suffered severe head and brain injuries after being hit by a falling beam, it said.
The statement said the fire started in a water pumping room on the fifth floor at about 3:20am and was brought under control around three hours later.
A hotel manager, U Thiha, 41, from North Okkalapa Township, is facing a charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, the statement added.
Reports said the fire at the five-star Htoo Group property was the worst hotel blaze in Yangon in 60 years.
There were 141 guests, most of them foreign visitors, staying in 96 rooms when the blaze began, Htoo Group spokesperson U Htay Lwin told a noon news conference on October 19.
The hotel was insured, he said.
The investigation into the cause of the fire will likely focus on the hotel’s safety and warning systems.
An American tourist who narrowly escaped the blaze told Frontier she did not hear a fire alarm and was woken by hotel staff.
Ms Adrienne Frilot from California said she heard knocking at her door for about 20 minutes and initially thought it was a drunken guest.
“We realised that something was wrong and opened the door and we smelled the smoke and then evacuated immediately,” Frilot told Frontier.
“There was no alarm and it just sort of sounded like there were drunken people in the hallways,” she said.
“The staff were so helpful; as soon as I stepped out of my room with my bag, someone grabbed my bag and said, ‘Turn this way,’ and we went out one by one.”
A Swedish guest had a similar experience, saying he did not hear an alarm or see sprinklers activated, and had also fled the building after being woken by staff.
Mr Raymond Bragg, the chief executive officer of Htoo Hospitality, told the news conference he was at the hotel when the fire began and the alarm system was activated.
Htay Lwin added that staff had woken guests as a precaution and not because the alarm had failed.
“The fire alarm was working normally,” he said.
The hotel, overlooking Kandawgyi Lake in central Yangon, was built in the early 1990s by Bangkok-based Baiyoke Group of Hotels. It was refurbished and expanded after being acquired in 2010 for US$29 million by the Htoo Group, owned by the tycoon U Tay Za.
Parts of the site date to the 1930s, when it was used as a rowing club during the colonial era.