TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A woman is being investigated for arson after it was found that a mosquito coil she discarded was found at the suspected point of origin of a fire that killed 46 and injured 41 in Kaohsiung's notorious "ghost building."
At around 2:40 a.m. on Thursday (Oct. 14), a fire broke out in the Cheng Chung Cheng (城中城) Building in Kaohsiung's Yancheng District, a deteriorating structure dubbed locally as "Kaohsiung's No. 1 ghost building." The Kaohsiung City Fire Department battled the blaze for five hours, finally extinguishing it at 7 a.m., but not before 46 had perished and 41 had been injured, making it the second-most deadly fire in a single building — after the Weierkang Club fire in Taichung, which killed 64, in 1995.
Based on a preliminary assessment, the fire investigator believes the point of origin of the blaze is a small apartment suite behind an antique shop on the first floor. Surveillance camera footage showed a number of individuals walking in and out of the room shortly before the fire started.
Surveillance camera stills show progression of fire on first floor. (Kaoshiung City Fire Department screenshots)
Inside the room, investigators found gas cylinders for a stove among other flammable items, but an object that was of particular interest was a charred incense burner. The room was occupied by a tenant surnamed Kuo (郭) and after being questioned by police, he said that his girlfriend, a woman surnamed Huang (黃), had joined him for drinks that night, reported CNA.
Kuo and Huang reportedly had an argument that evening, prompting Kuo to angrily storm out of the building. Huang remained inside and continued to drink alcohol with another male companion, who she later escorted outside.
A A man surnamed Kuo is escorted by police. (CNA photo)
Huang told prosecutors that she then returned to the room and continued to drink alone. During this time, she admitted to lighting a sandalwood incense coil to repel mosquitoes but denied intentionally committing arson, reported FTV News.
However, she gave prosecutors three contradicting accounts about what happened next. First, she claimed that she tossed the sandalwood embers in a trash can.
A A woman surnamed Huang is escorted by police. (CNA photo)
Later, she recanted her original statement and said that she had taken the embers away to dispose of them. She then gave a third version of events, claiming that she forgot what she had done with the embers.
The conflicting accounts about her actions before the fire started have led prosecutors to suspect that she is not being truthful about the incident. Prosecutors plan to question the woman further.
Huang prepares to undergo more questioning by police officers on Friday. (CNA photo)