A blaze tore through a three-story karaoke bar in southern Vietnam this week, killing 33 people, the authorities said on Thursday, making it the deadliest fire in Vietnam since 2002.
It was the latest in a series of fatal blazes at Vietnamese karaoke bars in recent years. The disaster prompted Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to order fire inspections nationwide at karaoke bars and other establishments considered to be at high risk, including pubs, discos and nightclubs.
An electrical short circuit set off the fire on Tuesday night on the second floor of An Phu Karaoke, in Binh Duong Province, just north of Ho Chi Minh City, the police said. Residents nearby told the local news media that they had heard loud explosions at the time.
Flames spread throughout the second floor and to the third, blocking exits and filling the hallways with smoke. The flames grew swiftly in the building, which had few windows, a wooden interior and flammable soundproof foam panels, the police said. The bar’s staff tried but failed to extinguish the flames.
Soon, the people inside were trapped, the police said. Many of the singing rooms were locked, making it hard for rescuers to enter and help the roughly 60 employees and customers. Some did not follow instructions to escape quickly because they were drunk, the provincial police chief, Col. Trinh Ngoc Quyen, said.
Some guests jumped about 25 feet from the building’s balcony to safety, though they were injured doing so. Several others were found dead in a restroom.
The fire had been extinguished by 3 a.m. on Wednesday, but the search for victims continued until the evening. Among the 33 who died, 17 were men and 16 were women, the police said. Only 19 have been identified, Col. Quyen said Thursday, because burns have made doing so difficult.
The blaze in Binh Duong has only heightened concerns in recent years about safety standards at karaoke bars.
After several fatal fires at karaoke bars in Hanoi — one in 2014 killed five people, one in 2016 killed 13, and one last month killed three firefighters — officials in the capital said they would close those that did not have adequate fire safety measures. Ho Chi Minh City has stepped up fire inspections at karaoke bars, discos and clubs.
An Phu Karaoke, built in 2016, has passed several fire safety inspections, including this year, the provincial authorities said.
Nguyen The Truyen, a lawyer in Hanoi who specializes in business law, said that the regulatory authorities that conduct fire inspections in Vietnam are not reviewed by any independent organization and that the country needed to “review the effectiveness and working capacity of the fire prevention force.”