The nine-story mini apartment building at No 37, Alley 29/70, Khương Hạ Street, Khương Đình Ward, Thanh Xuân District where the fire occurred. — VNA/VNS Photo Tuấn Anh

Following the tragic fire in a mini apartment in Thanh Xuân District last Tuesday night, which claimed the lives of 56 people and injured 37, numerous apartment residents have been gripped with fear and anxiety.

Public concern has grown significantly regarding fire safety in tall apartment buildings due to evident lapses.

In Tự Do Alley, Đồng Tâm Ward, Hai Bà Trưng District of Hà Nội, which is near universities, there's a high demand for rental accommodation.

Local inhabitants have noted the construction of several mini apartment blocks, ranging from seven to nine floors in height.

A significant number of these buildings fall short regarding fire safety standards.

T.D., a local, told the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) that these mini apartments, despite having a floor area of less than 200sq.m, have a high population density. Typically, rooms lack windows and possess only minor ventilation doors.

On the ground floor, one can find hundreds of motorbikes and electric vehicles parking.

T.D. emphasised the severe consequences if a fire or explosion were to happen.

A recent visit by a VNA correspondent revealed that the mini apartment at No 87 Tự Do Alley, while not fully constructed, already had inhabitants. The structure lacks fire safety equipment, and its staircases are missing handrails.

M., a student, mentioned that the property owner had given assurances about fitting fire safety equipment at a later date.

Fire risks

Recent findings from the Hà Nội Police reveal that from the start of the year to mid-August, the capital city has witnessed 144 fires, resulting in 10 fatalities and 11 injured.

The preliminary evaluation places property damage at approximately VNĐ4.6 billion (US$190,000) and a loss of six hectares of forested land.

This month, Hà Nội has experienced roughly five fires of varying magnitudes.

Most notably, a severe blaze engulfed the mini apartment building at No 37, Alley 29/70, Khương Hạ Street, Khương Đình Ward, Thanh Xuân District. This nine-storey building, covering an area of about 200sq.m, houses around 150 residents. The tragic incident led to the deaths of 56 individuals and injured 37 others.

Colonel Dương Đức Hải, the deputy director of the Hà Nội Police, highlighted that electrical short circuits were the root cause of an overwhelming 96 per cent of these fires.

In an endeavour to heighten public knowledge and preparedness regarding fire hazards, the city instructed 102,034 business establishments (which is roughly 94.1 per cent of the total) and 1,496,239 households (amounting to 91.3 per cent) to establish an escape path. Furthermore, 620,938 households have equipped themselves with portable fire extinguishers, totalling nearly one million devices.

The city has established and overseen 7,313 teams responsible for fire prevention and combat.

In addition, 19,685 public fire-fighting stations have been set up.

Yet, as Hải pointed out, there remains a level of negligence amongst some individuals, making fires a persistent hidden threat.

It's evident that in certain older apartments within the city centre, residents continue the practice of burning votive papers in communal hallways. Similarly, at marketplaces, some vendors burn these papers directly at their stalls.

Hải emphasised that particularly in mini apartments or boarding houses, predominantly occupied by informal workers, there is a stark lack of awareness concerning this issue.


National Assembly Chairman Vương Đình Huệ (centre) visits a victim of the fire on Khương Hạ Street, who is under treatment at the Bạch Mai Hospital. — VNA/VNS Photo Doãn Tấn

In the aftermath of the Khương Hạ Street fire tragedy, many are of the view that had there been stricter construction oversight, issues like excessive floor construction and overpopulation in residential areas would have been avoided.

Preliminary data indicates that Hà Nội houses around 2,000 mini apartment buildings.

Enhanced oversight of construction practices in mini-apartments and boarding houses stands as a pivotal measure to mitigate the risk of fires.

Trần Sỹ Thanh, Chairman of the Hà Nội People's Committee, emphasised that following the devastating fire on Khương Hạ Street, there's a pressing need for Party committees and other authorities to recalibrate their perception of the issue.

The emphasis should be on harnessing the collective strength of the entire political framework, with a special focus on the public, to advance fire prevention and response efforts.

"Without the backing of the public, our endeavours will fall short," Thanh commented.

Hà Nội has slated a comprehensive review of mini apartments, set to run from September 15 to 30 this year. The city's administration will scrutinise aspects like land utilisation, investment strategies, construction standards, electrical installations, fire precautions, and rescue protocols pertaining to all mini apartments and boarding houses.

Moreover, the Ministry of Construction is in the process of revising the National Regulations on Fire Safety for Houses and Buildings, aiming for regulations that better reflect real-world scenarios.

Cao Duy Khôi, deputy director of the Institute of Construction Science and Technology, emphasised the importance for project investors to integrate fire protection measures at the design phase itself.

It's essential to engage a proficient consulting and construction agency that possesses the requisite expertise on the subject, he stated.

Trần Tuấn Anh, general director of the Việt Nam Investment Consulting and Construction Designing Joint Stock Company, pointed out the supremacy of fire prevention over fire fighting. Consequently, he believes the national guidelines should underscore this aspect.

“Foreign countries always pay great attention to fire prevention, so when a fire occurs, property and people damage is always controlled to a minimum level. If prevention is good, it will ensure the safety of human lives at construction sites. Thus fire prevention needs to be the top priority in the amended regulations," said Anh.

However, he also acknowledged the financial burden of adhering to fire prevention rules.

The heightened construction expenses, which arise from meeting these standards, pose challenges for investors. This becomes a significant dilemma for many of them when weighing the various investment facets associated with fire safety and management.

Technology application

The Ministry of Public Security's recent Circular 149/2020/TT-BCA has said that, starting from February 20 this year, all structures with potential fire and explosion hazards under police supervision must possess devices that relay incident reports and updates to the Fire Prevention and Rescue Police Department.

This system will routinely send updates to paired mobile phones regarding the fire alarm's operational status.

In the event of a fire, it also instantly broadcasts alerts through the network.

This is seen as a significant stride towards integrating state-of-the-art science and technology into fire prevention.

Phạm Thị Hồng Liên, a resident of an apartment on Tố Hữu Street in Nam Từ Liêm District, conveyed her eager anticipation upon hearing about this innovative device.

"If the equipment is overseen by the fire safety system and provides immediate and precise data, residents of the apartment will undoubtedly feel much safer," she said.

Echoing Liên's sentiments, Nguyễn Minh Phương, living in Bắc Từ Liêm District, emphasised the need to use technology in fire prevention strategies.

Identifying the exact source of a malfunction plays a crucial role in maintaining the building's fire safety, given that it's not feasible for humans to maintain constant surveillance on every aspect, she said. — VNS