At least 9 people died and 2 were injured after an arsonist set fire to timber stacked in a staircase on the 4th floor of an apartment building in Zhonghe District, New Taipei City, yesterday, November 22.
A 49 year-old man was arrested this morning after witness reports and CCTV footage identified him as a suspect.
As the fire was started in the staircase, residents on the 4th floor, and in an illegally constructed residence on the 5th floor, were unable to escape the blaze. The rented suites belong to a landlord who owns the third, fourth, and fifth floor apartments. The landlord was brought to the building by police this morning to help with the investigation but refused to face reporters and covered her face with a raincoat.
The apartments were divided into small suites and rented to low income residents. New Taipei City Fire Department said that compartments had been constructed using non-flame resistant materials including wood, leading to an intense blaze. There also were narrow and insufficient escape routes in the building.
According to CNA, the arson suspect, named Li, had recently had an argument with a resident on the 4th floor. At around 8:30pm Li splashed gasoline around the staircase of the building and set it alight.
Thirty-four fire appliances, 27 ambulances, and a total of 178 firefighters were dispatched to the scene. The fire was extinguished at around 9:15pm.
Foreign Nationals among the Dead
At the time of reporting 4 of the deceased residents have been identified as Taiwanese, including a 42 year-old police officer named Wang. Two of the dead are female foreign nationals, and three remain unidentified.
New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu went to the funeral parlor in Banciao District in the afternoon to offer condolences to families of the deceased.
New Taipei City Government officials held an inter-office contingency meeting this morning where deputy mayor Hou You-yi said that this was a public security incident. Hou urged stepped up efforts to inspect and prosecute illegally constructed buildings and rental suites.