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At least two dead as fire decimates Rangoon’s Kandawgyi Palace hotel

Police officers stand guard during a fire at Kandawgyi Palace hotel in Rangoon on 19 October 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

A massive fire destroyed most of the Kandawgyi Palace in the early hours of Thursday morning, with at least two deaths reported at one of Rangoon’s most iconic hotels.

About 70 percent of the hotel is estimated to have been destroyed by the blaze, which began just after 3 a.m. A woman from Macao was also injured after she jumped from her third-floor room at the hotel as the fire raged.

Situated on Kandawgyi Lake, the hotel is owned by tycoon Tay Za, a man arguably best known for ties to Burma’s previous military regime that helped fuel his enterprises, spread across the hospitality, airline and construction sectors.

Speaking to DVB on Thursday evening, Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township Police Captain Zaw Win Naing said two bodies had been recovered from the smoldering ruins of the largely teakwood complex.

Yan Naing Tun, deputy managing director of Htoo Hospitality, a subsidiary of Tay Za’s Htoo Group of Companies, earlier acknowledged one death, saying that 141 guests were staying in 96 rooms at the time the fire broke out, and that 145 of the hotel’s 185 rooms were torched. He also said that most of those checked in to the hotel were foreign tourists.

“We cannot confirm yet with regard to details of [the victims],” Yan Naing Tun said. The Japanese media outlet TBS reported that one was a 50-year-old Japanese man from Tokyo, with the Japanese Embassy working to confirm the victim’s identity.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, a Htoo Group spokesperson, Htay Lwin, said hotel staff had prioritised evacuation of guests over efforts to extinguish the fire in the early stages of the conflagration, the cause of which remained unknown at the time of the media briefing.

“Our night shift operations manager was detained at the Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township police station. … But I don’t know which section [of the law] was used to charge him,” said Htay Lwin.

The Htoo spokesperson said the company would take responsibility for guests’ losses, as well as the medical bills of the woman from Macao.

“Now, a woman is at Rangoon General Hospital. She wants to move to a private hospital. We will take responsibility but she cannot move to another hospital within 24 hours, in accordance with the procedure of the general hospital,” said Htay Lwin.

He rebutted criticism that the hotel was not up to code on fire-hazard preventative measures.

“Our fire sprinkler system was fully functional. Sixty hotel staffers informed [the guests in each] room to move to safety areas. Also, they activated the fire alarm.”

Some 500 firefighters, 50 fire trucks, police and administrative officials were dispatched to the scene as the fire intensified. It was brought under control at about 7 a.m.

Guests at Kandawgyi Palace were relocated to other hotels in Rangoon, according to the city’s police force.

This story was updated at 6:22 p.m.