A fire which broke out at a boutique on Rua do Tarrafeiro in the early hours of yesterday has led to the deaths of four people. The victims are allegedly workers from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Residents in the nearby buildings became aware of the fire at around 4 a.m. Some claimed that the staircase of their building was filled with smoke when they were evacuating. It took the firefighters a little over 10 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
The Fire Service Bureau told TDM that the clothing and objects in the shop fuelled the fire, whose cause remains unknown. They also initially claimed that the case seemed suspicious and thus has handed it over to the Judiciary Police (PJ). However, the PJ said in a press conference yesterday afternoon that they currently lack any evidence that suggests the fire began with criminal intent. However, a PJ spokesperson said they will further investigate the case.
Moreover, the spokesperson said that according to a statement from the boutique owner, a domestic worker was allowed to stay in the attic of the shop. PJ believes that the four victims, one male and three females, were friends of the domestic worker. Nevertheless, the authority declared that the remains of the victims were so severely burnt that not even gender could be verified. They have therefore yet to identify the bodies. They also found evidence that suggests the victims tried to escape from the scene.
The Times yesterday afternoon has spoken to Sam Aryadi, vice consul (information and Socio-Cultural) from the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Hong Kong. The vice consul said that they have yet to be formally notified of the issue. “Although not yet formally [notified],… we have heard about [the fire] and our staff are now [getting information] about the current situation. We don’t know yet the details of what’s happening. Some of our staff are currently in Macau now. I am also waiting for their report,” he said.
But the Indonesian diplomat refused to comment on the fact that the boutique owner had arranged for the domestic worker to sleep in the attic, which may not meet the legal requirements on accommodation for non-resident workers. He only said that they first have to ascertain the facts of the incident.
Ms Ho, the owner of a shop opposite the boutique, also spoke to the Times. She said that, from what she had gathered, the neighbors had noticed the smoke around 4 a.m. and decided to notify the authorities. She was also told that some residents tried to warn the people inside the boutique. However, she said that when they were knocking on the shop’s gate, it already felt hot. Furthermore, Ms Ho said that although she did not pay much attention to the store, which has been open for less than two years, she said the shopkeeper “did not look like a local”.
She also suggested that the incident has served as a warning, which has shown the hazardous conditions in the neighborhood that is filled with old style buildings. “The buildings in the old districts do not have much space. Also, given the current high rental level, some apartments may house up to 10 non-
resident workers. This is pretty dangerous”, she said. “I think there has to be more awareness on fire prevention, which will allow people to understand the consequences.”