A recent fire at the construction site of Vietnam's highest building in Hanoi has put Ho Chi Minh City on the alert, as an inspection by the fire fighting authorities showed 60 percent of taller buildings in HCMC had failed to comply with fire regulations..
On August 27, a fire broke out at the top of a seven-story building, part of the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark Tower complex, consuming the structure's air conditioning system at a loss of hundreds of millions of dong. No casualties were reported.
It was the third fire at the notorious construction site, where six workers have died in industrial accidents since 2009.
In March last year, a fire broke out on the 25th floor of a 70-story building of the South Korean-invested Keangnam complex. Eight months later, another fire broke out on the tower's first floor.
Investigations into the most recent fire are underway, but a local official said welding sparks may have fallen into paint boxes and set them on fire.
When reporters from local news agencies, including Thanh Nien, VTC and VnExpress, tried to approach the scene, security officers of the Keangnam complex shooed them away and seized their cameras.
The same thing happened after two previous fires, when security officers tried to prevent reporters from entering the building.
It is now 17 months since the fire broke out in March 2010, but no official announcement has been made about what caused either of the two earlier fires.
Work on the 70-floor tower, slated to be the highest building in Vietnam upon completion, is still underway.
Last year, the HCMC Fire Prevention and Fighting Police Department carried out an inspection of 1,079 buildings of at least five stories each.
Results from the tour showed 638 of the buildings violated fire regulations.
Many newly built buildings had non-functional fire alarm systems due to a lack of regular maintenance, the department said. The department said the buildings' investors had paid little or no attention to fire safety measures.
It listed several luxury apartment buildings My Vinh in District 3, Thao Dien in District 2, Hoang Anh 1, Park View and Garden Plaza 2 in District 7 as having seriously violated fire regulations.
In many apartment buildings, the basement is used as a parking lot, where security guards stay to keep their eyes on vehicles. They usually cook and burn incense there, posing serious fire risks, according to inspectors.
In other buildings, the space for vehicles is so small that vehicles sometimes block entrances.
On August 28, Tuoi Tre reporters arrived at the 11-story apartment building on 727 Tran Hung Dao Street in District 5, where a fire had broken out on March 14.
It seems the building is still underprepared for another fire. There is no light at the emergency exit, and fire extinguishers are found only on the ground floor and the first floor, the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said in a report this week.
"When the fire broke out in March, I could not find any fire extinguisher. Now I don't see any either," Tran Thi Dep, a resident on the second floor, was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying.
The Tuoi Tre report said further that most of residents in HCMC apartment buildings confessed they barely know how to use firefighting equipment and had little idea of what to do in case of fire.
Hong Van of the 14-story Pham Viet Chanh apartment building in Binh Thanh District said she did not participate in fire drills organized by the building management board.
"I just know that the building has installed firefighting systems, and there are four steps to extinguish a fire, in theory.
"I will run in case of fire. I cannot lift the fire extinguisher, it's too heavy."
Ngoc Anh, who lives on the 11th floor of the 25-story Hoang Anh Gia Lai building in District 7, said she was too busy to learn fire-fighting skills.
"The building management board holds fire drills several times a year, but I am still underprepared for fire.
"The best way is to run for your life."
Duong Ngoc Dung, a resident of the 18-story Phu My Thuan building in Nha Be District, said only a few residents attended training classes on fire prevention and fighting.
He added that he learned fire skills by himself and through fire drills at work.