Fire alarm

Tragic fire triggers questions over developer’s model


Four died in the Greentown fire

Last week, China was gripped by a horrific tragedy in Hangzhou that saw a mother and her three young children, aged six to 11, killed in an arson case.

Their father was away on a business trip at the time of the incident. And according to local media outlets, it is believed that the family’s 34 year-old nanny set fire to the living room before fleeing the scene.

While most of the discussion has focused on the reasons behind the arson – the nanny is reported to have owed money and had tried to steal from the family before – others have pointed the finger at Greentown, the developer of the luxury apartment complex where the family met their deaths. And just as in the UK with the tragic Grenfell Tower blaze, some have blamed a lack of adequate fire safety standards.

There have been questions why it took so long to try to rescue the family despite repeated calls for help. Residents that were at the scene told reporters that it took the security guards over five minutes before they could crack open the steel doors to reach the fire hydrant. The water pipes didn’t fit with the connection points, which led to further delays. The Global Times found that several security guards had altered the fire hydrant examination records, after initially forgetting to examine them during routine checks.

Relatives of the victims have said they will sue both Greentown and the nanny’s agency for negligence. “The nanny may have been the criminal but Greentown is the real culprit,” one netizen thundered. “I thought home is the safest place on earth. Now I’m not so sure,” another wrote.

In response, Greentown sent 20 employees to express condolences at the funeral of the deceased. It later issued a statement saying that it will respond appropriately if the police investigation finds the management was at fault.

Beijing News found that since the second half of 2015, Greentown has outsourced all of its building security to third party vendors. The move has helped boost its profitability, with its margin up from 16.5% in 2014 to 19.2% last year. For residents at Greentown projects, however, management fees have climbed. The average monthly fee at Greentown buildings went up almost 14% between 2013 and 2016. That’s a hefty increase, particularly if the building management is proving inadequate in areas like fire prevention.

Greentown has been busy doing damage control. “We admit that some of our security procedures are flawed. However, you can’t deny that our security staff had every intention to save the family yet they were subjected to such harsh scrutiny… It is very tough on them. The incident is definitely the responsibility of Greentown management. We will reflect and rectify our mistakes,” one company executive told Economic Observer.

Others worry that less expensive buildings might be even less prepared for fires.“If tragedies like this can take place in an apartment that costs more than Rmb30 million a unit, what’s going to happen to ordinary people like us?” wrote one netizen. It was poor safety standards that saw a 28-storey apartment building destroyed by fire in Shanghai in 2010. That blaze killed 58.

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