THOUGH the fire on Wednesday did not damage the structure of CentralWorld department store which will resume business today, questions still remain regarding the safety of customers.
After inspecting the mall’s interior, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) told reporters yesterday that the fire was likely caused by the combustion of gas in the mall’s waste-treatment facility on B2 floor, which then spread to the eighth floor via an air vent.
However, a shopper slammed the mall operators for what he said was a dangerous underestimation of the situation and the too-slow evacuation of shoppers and staff. He said it would have been a bigger tragedy if the fire had got out of control.
Siriwat Chaichana, an adviser to EIT, said that though two people had been killed and more than 20 others injured, the team of engineers have concluded that the fire was not large enough to cause substantial damage to the building’s structure.
Apart from the small fire-affected areas on B2 and the eighth floor, the mall can open for business as normal, the team said.
“After inspecting CentralWorld, it was found that the fire was too small and did not burn for long enough to affect the inside of the concrete structure, so the building is considered safe to open to the public again,” Siriwat said.
Amorn Pimanmas, secretary-general of the Council of Engineers, said the fire began at the waste-treatment facility room on the B2 floor, leading the team to conclude that the fire was sparked by the combustion of gas.
As for why the fire was worse on the eighth floor, Amorn said that an air vent delivered the smoke and heat to the upper level, triggering a second fire outbreak there.
Pathum Wan district chief Phinit Arayasilpathorn, meanwhile, said he has ordered the temporary closure of an 80-square-metre area on B2 floor and a 400sqm area on the eighth floor until the repairs are completed.
Phinit also assured that CentralWorld’s fire-alarm system is working properly, despite people in the mall during the incident saying the alarms did not sound promptly.
“The department store is big and full of customers, so operators must consider preventing mass panic, which could harm more people than the fire itself. They gently alerted customers and guided them in an orderly manner to the exit,” he said.
However, Sansith Koraviyotin, who was at Central World during the fire, said there were no alerts, gentle or otherwise, and the mall operator underestimated the fire, which was very risky.
“Even after I smelt smoke and people began to evacuate, many were still sipping their coffee, and nobody warned them of the danger and asked them to leave. People were still allowed to use the lifts,” Sansith said.
“Furthermore, I heard no sirens to warn people in the mall that there was a fire and that we were in danger!”
He said that this time people were lucky, because the fire was not that severe, however, he cautioned that if response to emergency situations is so lackadaisical, a tragedy maybe inevitable in the future.
Meanwhile, Police General Hospital reported that five of the 10 individuals injured in the fire had recovered and returned home yesterday.
Labour Minister Adul Sangsingkaew said the families of the two victims will be compensated as per law.
The family of Sakchai Chalernlarp, 37, will receive Bt1.42 million, and that of Arthit Kamsai, 41, Bt1.39 million. The sums will be presented to the victims’ families next Thursday.
Meanwhile, 15 injured people will have their medical expenses covered by the Social Security Office and compensated according to the law, Adul said.