Suspect Charged in Taiwan’s Deadly ‘Ghost Building’ Fire

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwanese prosecutors on Friday formally charged a suspect with homicide and arson in the case of an October fire that killed 46 and injured dozens.

The suspect, Huang Ge-ge, is accused of deliberately pouring hot ashes from mosquito-repellent incense on the sofa in the room where her partner, Kuo Ching-wen, lived, according to a statement posted by the prosecutors of the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where the fire took place.

The prosecutors said that Ms. Huang, 52, was unhappy that Mr. Kuo, 53, had not answered her calls or replied to her messages on a messaging app after they had quarreled earlier that night.

Ms. Huang has been detained since two days after the Oct. 14 fire, which began around 2 a.m. Mr. Kuo, also initially a suspect in the case, was not at home at the time and has not been charged with any crime, according to the prosecutors.

Ms. Huang left Mr. Kuo’s first-floor room shortly after she poured the ashes on the sofa, prosecutors say. The fire spread in the wood-furnished space, and rapidly engulfed the higher floors of the 13-story building, making it hard for the residents — mostly poorer and older people who had been asleep at the time — to escape.

At the time of the fire, the building had suffered years of neglect and was inhabited by squatters, gamblers, sex workers and older and poorer people. The average age of those killed in the fire was 62.

Ms. Huang had “intended to make her boyfriend embarrassed and regretful by setting the fire, which caused major disasters and claimed innocent lives,” and she “showed no regrets after committing the crime,” the prosecutors said in the statement, which also indicated they would seek the death penalty.

The fire was the second-deadliest in Taiwan since 1995, when a blaze broke out in a karaoke club in the central city of Taichung, killing 64. It raised broader concerns about lax safety standards in the island’s aging structures. The once-bustling building in Kaohsiung’s waterfront district, built in the 1980s, was partly abandoned and had deteriorated rapidly in recent years, becoming what is often known as a “ghost building.”

Piles of garbage had accumulated on lower floors and in the stairwells, which fire officials said had accelerated the fire’s spread and impeded rescue efforts.

The blaze also highlighted the lack of support for poor and older people who are desperate for housing and often have no choice but to live in dilapidated buildings.

After the fire, the Taiwanese government created an inventory of the island’s older buildings and ordered local governments to improve services for older people living alone. Kaohsiung’s government has also said it would pay compensation to relatives of those who died in the blaze.


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