A parking lot worker in Ho Chi Minh City smokes while arranging motorbikes. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Two men are smoking as they write down parking numbers and collect changefrom customers at a parking lot near the crowded Cho Ray Hospital on Nguyen Chi Thanh Street.
Another presses his burning cigarette between his fingers as he squeezes through hundreds of motorbikes to get one out.
There are click sounds all over the lot as other customers flick their lighters for a smoke, under the burning heat of early April.
Asked if their boss had banned smoking in the lot, one worker shakes his head with a smile, and presses his cigarette on the ground to put it out.
A Tuoi Tre newspaper report exposed many fire dangers at parking lots around Ho Chi Minh City, after a fire at one lot on April 5 caused some VND2.5 billion (US$118,600) damage by burning down 325 motorbikes and a car plus a couple of vending carts.
The city police have concluded that the fire was started by a person burning grass and garbage nearby, and are looking for the culprit to press charges.
Several other lots in the city could end up the same as they stand next to the burning ovens of street vendors.
The lot at Hung Vuong Hospital in District 5 is separated only by a fence of iron bars from many rice and noodle shops that are cooking most of the time on the Luong Nhu Hoc sidewalk.
A worker at the lot admitted that the fire risk from the vendors’ ovens is very high but said “the sidewalk is their area.”
The parking lots are also not equipped with any fire prevention tools.
One lot in a basement at the Saigon Zoo had hundreds of motorbikes and several cars but almost no fire extinguishing equipment in sight during a visit on April 9 .
Questioned about fire precautions, a lot worker pointed to a hand extinguisher.
Another crowded parking lot in front of Tan Binh Market, one of the biggest markets in the city, is quipped with two.
A manager at the lot said she could ask for outside assistance in case of fire.
The answer was repeated at many other lots in the city, as several parking lots around the city’s major shopping mall Maximark had only two extinguishers each.
A manager at one said local authorities launched inspections early this year and ordered each to have six.
Colonel Mai Cong Duong from the city fire police department told Tuoi Tre that there has yet to be an official set of fire safety standards for parking lots.
But Duong admitted that no one would not be able to put out a fire if only equipped with several portable extinguishers containing carbon dioxide, which is only effective in closed areas while most lots are open to air and thus oxygen.
He said the April 5 fire was an example, as the lot workers and neighbors tried to put out the fire with the extinguishers to no avail.
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