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Fire risk triggers rethink of apartment life

Update: October, 22/2015 - 10:14

by Bach Lien

The latest blaze that occurred at a new apartment building in Ha Noi 10 days ago is still one of most discussed topics among the city's inhabitants. The fire, which reportedly started in the basement of the 34-storey CT4 Building in the new Xa La urban area, damaged two parking levels in an area of 1,533sq.m. About 200 motorbikes, 45 bicycles and one car were burnt.

It was not until the most fire that residents in the Xa La urban area started to worry about the risk of their buildings.

Just two months ago, two other fires broke out at Building CT5 in the Xa La urban area and Building HH4 in the Linh Dam urban area.

The causes of these cases and others that have occurred at high-rise residential buildings around the city in recent years were all blamed on a lack of knowledge of fire safety regulations by both investors and residents.

After the incident, once again, people have asked if living in an apartment building is an ideal choice.

Over the past 15 years, living in an apartment building has become a new trend.

Apartment buildings have mushroomed in the city to meet the housing demand as the population in Ha Noi has rapidly increased.

Investors are in a race to build high-rises and sell the apartments.

Apartments have also emerged as an affordable option for people who do have high incomes and cannot afford a house in the city.

Despite the risks, some residents say living in an apartment has its perks, which is a view shared by many others with whom I have discussed the issue.

As for me, I've also always wanted to live in a house with a garden where I could grow lots of vegetables and flowers. My family has lived for 20 years in an old apartment near the centre of Ha Noi, where my mother is happy to find a vacant plot just 400m from our apartment to grow vegetables.

Nguyen Van Tuan, a 40-year-old engineer, lived for 15 years in a little house on Kham Thien Street in the city centre. After growing tired of the noise, he and his family moved to an apartment in the Van Quan urban area (10km from the city's centre), where they now can embrace the calm provided by the living quarters.

"We feel much healthier since we came to live here," Tuan says. "I feel safe because there is a security guard at all hours in the building."

He adds that his children enjoy the apartment, which has an entertainment area and is located in a good neighbourhood.

Tuan says some people who do not live in apartments are afraid that the power may sometimes go out, or they are concerned about having to climb stairs if the elevator stops functioning. And when there is no water, they do not know what to do.

"In fact, an electricity generator is equipped in those apartment buildings, and they allow the elevator to function when there is no electricity," he says. "I have never suffered from a water shortage."

Tran Mai Van, a resident in the An Lac apartment building in Tu Liem district of Ha Noi, says living in an apartment is convenient and comfortable.

However, living in an apartment is not always easy.

Van says the residents in her building are angry with the building's managing board and claim that they are being over-charged for hygiene and security services.

"Some family refused to pay this amount of money and had their power and water cut," she says. "Even though my family paid money, it's silly that we suffered from power and water cuts for several days. The managing board mistook my family for a neighbour who didn't pay," the 30 year-old primary school teacher says.

She also complains that residents are forbidden from making repairs to or changing the structure of the apartments.

After she heard of the news about the latest blaze in the Xa La urban area, Van says she started worrying about the risks she faces in her own apartment building.

"The city's fire police sometimes come to buildings to perform fire prevention and control training, but I panic quickly when fires happen because I do not know much about it," she says. "We have also suffered several times from false fire alarms from pesky neighbours."

According to the city's People's Committee, more than 2,100 fires have occurred in Ha Noi in the last 10 years, killing more than 110 people, injuring about 270 and causing damage estimated at more than VND705 billion (US$31.6 million). On average, over 200 fires and explosions are reported each year, causing a loss of about VND70 billion ($3.1 million).

According to Van, living in an apartment building is fine if building owners strictly follow regulations and technical standards. Ensuring fire prevention and control at high-rise buildings should be a top priority, she says.

Weighing the pros and cons of living in an apartment building, both Huyen and Tuan acknowledge that they don't think apartments are an ideal choice for everyone. If they had more money, they would prefer living in a house in a safe area of the city.

"An apartment is suitable for the economic condition of my family," Tuan says. "If we can save enough money, we hope to live in a house." — VNS

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