Deadly Taiwan building fire traced to incense burner

Taipei (AFP) – A Taiwanese woman who failed to extinguish incense before leaving her apartment has been pinpointed as the source of a recent apartment block fire that killed 46 people, authorities said Friday.


A massive fire gutted the building in the southern city of Kaohsiung on October 15 in Taiwan's deadliest blaze in decades.

The inferno broke out in a dilapidated 13-storey mixed-use building, raging through multiple floors before firefighters finally got it under control hours later.

A resident of the building, identified only by her family name Huang, had been previously detained on suspicion of negligent homicide and jeopardising public safety.

"Huang is apparently at fault," a report released by the Kaohsiung city government said Friday.

"She failed to make sure that the incense was completely extinguished before leaving the building to let the incense keep on burning, which then led to the fire."

Authorities were still deciding whether to formally charge Huang, the report added.

Prosecutors say Huang has admitted lighting sandalwood incense to repel mosquitoes but has given inconsistent statements on what she did before leaving her room.

The 51-year-old initially claimed she threw the incense into a garbage bin but later said she could not remember what she did, they said.

The fire highlighted concerns over lax safety standards in Taiwan and exposed the poor living conditions of many elderly in a society that is rapidly ageing.

The run-down housing block was in poor condition and partially abandoned. Many of those killed were low-income elderly people, some of whom had disabilities and dementia.

Fire officials said one of the reasons the blaze burned so fiercely was that the bottom five commercial floors were filled with debris and discarded items while many hallways were strewn with rubbish.