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Blasts in Pingtung factory fire not caused by firefighters: Officials

09/23/2023 08:22 PM
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Firefighters rest on a road close by golf ball manufacturer Launch Technologies after a long night of battling the fire at the company
Firefighters rest on a road close by golf ball manufacturer Launch Technologies after a long night of battling the fire at the company's plant in Pingtung County. CNA photo Sept. 23, 2023

Pingtung/ Taipei, Sept. 23 (CNA) Explosions that occurred during a deadly blaze in the factory of Launch Technologies Co. in Pingtung County on Friday evening were not caused by firefighters spraying water, as had been initially suspected, officials said Saturday.

The Pingtung County fire bureau said early Saturday that the unexpected explosions occurred soon after firefighters were thought to have doused the flames with water.

Water can react in dangerous ways with chemicals in certain industrial fires, even causing explosions, either through chemical reactions or by turning into steam.

Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said later Saturday, however, that officials speaking about the situation were originally misinformed and that the explosions were not caused by the use of water by firefighters in their initial response to the blaze.

Chen said that according to the commander at the scene, the factors behind the fire were complicated, and that further investigation was needed to get a clear picture of what happened.

The Pingtung County government also updated its version of events, providing video from one of the first fire trucks that arrived on the scene showing that firefighters did not use water to try to douse the flames.

That was confirmed by what county officials heard from Chen Wen-chuan (陳文川), one of the firefighters who entered the building.

Chen went into a coma Friday after the explosions, but he came out of it on Saturday afternoon and told officials that nobody on his team used water after it arrived at the plant at 5:55 p.m.

Chen said he and the rest of the crew quickly determined the need to use dry chemical powder to put out the blaze due to the chemicals in the building, but even then, the explosions happened as their commander ordered them to retreat because of the hazardous state of the structure.

Pingtung County Magistrate Chou Chun-mi (周春米) also said on Saturday that the firefighters did not try to use water to put out the factory fire, instead reiterating their use of a dry chemical powder.

The deadly explosions occurred when firefighters were no more than 10 meters inside the factory, leading to deaths and severe injuries, she said.

A further investigation into the cause of the fire, the ignition point in the plant, and whether the company sprayed water inside the building during the incident will be conducted, she said.

CNA video

At the scene, a factory worker surnamed Tai (戴) told reporters that he and his colleagues began to run outside after hearing the fire alarm on Friday but then soon after heard sounds of explosions.

Another worker said there were suspicions that a gas explosion happened inside the factory, causing the plant's steel frame to break apart.

One worker who was about to start work on the night shift said he and his colleagues were ready to enter the building to take over from day shift workers when the explosion occurred, causing windows to shatter and the structure to collapse, trapping the day shift people inside.

Meanwhile, Chen Ching-hui (陳靜慧), chief prosecutor at the Pingtung County Prosecutors Office, told CNA that three prosecutors were sent to the scene Saturday to investigate the case and collect related background information.

Prosecutors were also preparing to investigate Launch Technologies for previously being fined for employees working excessive hours, as well as occupational accidents that happened in the factory in the past, Chen said.

The outcome of the investigation, however, can only be confirmed once the search and rescue operation is nearly completed, according to Chen.

The fire at the golf ball manufacturer's plant in Pingtung County killed at least six people, including three firefighters and three factory workers, while injuring 98. As of 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, four individuals, including one firefighter and three factory workers, remained unaccounted for.

Four people were still thought to be trapped in the plant as of Saturday afternoon, according to local authorities.

(By Lee Hui-ting, Kuo Chien-shen, Fan Cheng-hsiang and Evelyn Yang)

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Further Reading

Sept. 23: Labor Ministry to investigate company hit by deadly fire

Sept. 23: Firefighter who died in Pingtung factory fire had planned October honeymoon

Sept. 23: Death toll from Pingtung factory fire rises to 5

Sept. 23: 4 firefighters killed, over 100 people injured in Pingtung factory fire

Sept. 22: Firefighter dies, over 10 trapped, 82 taken to hospital in Pingtung fire

Sept. 22: Firefighter dies, over a dozen injured in Pingtung industrial park fire

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