HANOI • Vietnam has ordered an investigation into a blaze which killed 13 people at a karaoke bar and took five hours to put out, as officials yesterday said some victims likely suffocated in windowless rooms.
Most of the dead were government workers enjoying a staff party when the fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon in the multi-storey building in Hanoi's commercial Cau Giay district and quickly tore through neighbouring buildings.
The incident led the prime minister to demand an investigation and punishment for safety violations - a rare occurrence.
Inspectors yesterday picked through rubble in the charred building, where broken beer bottles were scattered and several motorbikes burnt to a crisp.
"Hundreds of firemen and police officers were mobilised to extinguish the fire," ward official The Chung told AFP, adding two police officers were treated for injuries suffered trying to put out the blaze.
State-run media quoted an official as saying 11 of the victims were government employees. "They went out partying after finishing a test during a political training course," Hanoi's party chief Hoang Trung Hai said, according to Tuoi Tre newspaper.
He said the fire might have been sparked by construction inside the building.
"I was carrying my stuff when I saw the fire suddenly start," said Madam Do Thi Kha, 77, a food vendor. "The fire spread over to two or three neighbouring buildings before I saw fire trucks come in. It was terrible," she told AFP.
Another witness said the fire burned for more than five hours and was made worse when it ignited fuel tanks in cars parked nearby. "Trucks had to keep coming back and forth with water as there was not enough," said 69-year-old Nguyen Dinh Sau.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered the police to immediately investigate the cause of the fire and "seriously punish wrongdoing", according to the government's website.
He also told local authorities to closely inspect karaoke bars and restaurants for fire safety and equipment. Karaoke bars are popular hangouts in communist Vietnam, among government officials and young people alike.