OVER the last 50 years, 139 people, mostly foreigners, lost their lives in eight hotel fires in Thailand, and several hundred people were seriously injured, mostly from smoke inhalation. Six of the fires occurred in Bangkok. In the provinces, in 1997 a fire at the Royal Jomtien Resort Hotel in Pattaya killed 91 people and injured 63, making it the deadliest hotel fire in Thai history. In 2012, three people died in a fire at Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in Hat Yai. Bangkok fires causing fatalities occurred at the Imperial Hotel in 1971 (24 dead); Grace Hotel in 1985 (four dead); First Hotel in 1988 (13 dead); Amari Atrium Hotel in 2010 (one dead); Grand Park Avenue Hotel in 2012 (two dead); and the Grand Tower Inn in 2013 (one dead).
To put things in perspective, 139 fatalities is about the average two-day death toll on Thai roads. Considering that at present there are more than 400 resorts and hotels in Bangkok and more than 1,200 in other provinces, it’s not all that high. That does little to console the victims’ loved ones or make up for the terror experienced by the survivors.
However, the deadly fires did prompt a lot of improvements in hotel fire safety standards in recent years. These include requirements for the installation of smoke and fire alarms, sprinklers and other fire prevention equipment. Emergency lighting systems and clearly marked fire exits are also in place. In most establishments, fire drills and emergency training of hotel staff is now common.
Moreover, construction codes now require that fire-resistant materials be used in the interior décor and structural design of hotels and resorts. These and other measures are outlined in a legislative act passed by the government in 2007 called the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act, B.E. 2550.
The following list of some well-publicised hotel and resort fires from 1967 to July 2017 should serve as a reminder of how important it is to remain committed to today’s higher safety standards. The new emphasis on safety from both government and private sectors has undoubtedly made a difference, as witnessed by a decrease in the frequency of large fires in recent years along with a major reduction in fatalities, injuries and property damage.
April 20, 1971 – Imperial Hotel (Bangkok)
A predawn fire killed 24 people including six children at the Imperial, making it the second deadliest hotel fire in Thai history. Most of the guests in the 107-room hotel were Americans. The hotel was frequented by American diplomats and military officers and their families, as well as mostly European tourists.
Witnesses said the fire smoke in the five-storey hotel started around 4 am, apparently following an explosion in the ground floor coffee shop. Dozens of people tried desperately to escape the flames. Some jumped from the upper floors or climbed down on ropes made from knotted sheets. US Army medics from the 5th Field Hospital joined Thai police doctors in recovering charred bodies. The identification of bodies was made more difficult because the guest register was destroyed.
According to survivors, no alarm was sounded, the firemen arrived late and fire escapes, if they existed, were next to impossible to find in the smoke and confusion. Three days after the fire, smoke was still coming from rooms on the top floors.
September 26, 1985 – Grace Hotel (Bangkok)
The fire started about 4 am on the 8th floor of the hotel frequented mainly by tourists from the Middle East and spread to the 7th and 9th floors of the 300-room, 9-storey hotel. Thirty-eight rooms were destroyed and four people a Saudi man, two Arab women and one Thai woman died from smoke inhalation. Some tourists escaped from 8th-floor windows on knotted bed sheets and made it to the floor below, where they were able to reach a fireman’s ladder. It took firemen two hours to extinguish the blaze.
January 1, 1988 – First Hotel (Bangkok)
At around 4.10am on New Year’s Day, a fire broke out in the 218-room hotel killing 13 people, including 11 foreigners, and injuring 36 others. Some of the approximately 400 guests in the fully booked hotel were forced to jump from windows and rooftops or attempted to climb down the outside of the nine-storey hotel to escape flames and smoke.
Vietnamese-Australian guest grabbed onto the landing skids of a rescue helicopter but lost her grip and fell 100 feet to her death. The victims included citizens of Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and the US. Three helicopters rescued 30 people. It took 300 firemen and 57 fire vehicles five hours to extinguish the fire that did extensive damage to the hotel.
Two Americans who survived the fire told US officials that the hotel appeared to have no emergency warning system. Other guests complained of a lack of fire-fighting equipment. One policeman described the prevention system as ‘antiquated, insufficient and not up to standards, even for a small fire.’
Another officer said that the fire may have been started by a shorted circuit or a discarded cigarette butt. The hotel’s night manager said the fire started at a switchboard in a second-floor room used for parties. He claimed that he had activated a fire alarm system.
July 11, 1997 – Royal Jomtien Resort Hotel (Pattaya)
The fire in the 450-room, 17-storey hotel that left 91 people dead and around 63 injured, many seriously, apparently started around 10.20 am when a leaking gas cylinder ignited in a first-floor coffee shop. Many guests lost their lives after jumping from upper storeys. It took about 12 hours to extinguish the fire. Rescuers spent all night going through the burned rooms. Fire engines with high ladders were dispatched from Bangkok but arrived at the scene hours after the fire started. Three helicopters from Bangkok rescued lucky guests from the rooftop or windows.
The hotel didn’t have sprinkler systems and survivors said they heard no fire alarms. The Minister of Interior, Snoh Thienthong, blamed the high number of deaths on hotel employees who locked emergency exits. Hotel staff reportedly started looking hotel fire exits to prevent guests from leaving the hotel without paying. Police said that most bodies were found near the locked emergency doors. Belgian, Hungarian and South Korean natives were among the dead. To compound the tragedy, 11 rescue workers were killed when their pick-up truck overturned as they raced to the scene.
December 29, 2001 – The Ambassador Hotel (Bangkok)
The fire began at night on the 4th floor and quickly spread to other floors, gutting the hotel. Thick black smoke was coming from the building but remarkably no one was killed or injured. It took firemen four hours to bring the blaze under control. They succeeded in preventing the fire from jumping across narrow Sukhumvit Soi 13 to the Miami Hotel. Guests from both hotels poured out into the soi in a panic. The Ambassador could still be seen smouldering on the afternoon of the 30th. The Nation newspaper reported that arson was suspected.
January 2004 – Sunbeam Hotel (Pattaya)
An electric transformer that exploded outside the hotel before 1 pm caused a lot of smoke and a small fire at the hotel. Several guests were overcome by the smoke and one, an American man, fell from the 6th floor to the ground, breaking both feet and legs, pelvis and arms. He was treated at a local hospital for several weeks. At least one other foreigner was hospitalised.
April 26, 2005 –Baiyoke Suite Hotel (Bangkok)
The fire started shortly after midnight at the 43-storey, 255-room hotel, at the time the tallest building in Bangkok. Some guests were trapped on top floors. There were no reported casualties, but guests got the scare of their lives.
November 14, 2006 – Marine Plaza Hotel (Pattaya)
The fire that started at a room on the 4th floor of the six-storey hotel injured six foreign guests. Three were injured after they climbed from their balconies and fell. The other three succumbed to the thick smoke and were taken to the hospital. Other foreigners trapped on balconies were rescued. The fire was put out within an hour. Four rooms were destroyed and at least 20 others damaged. A tourist from Oman who was staying in the room the fire allegedly originated was taken to Pattaya police station for questioning.
June 15, 2007– The Jasmine Hotel (Pattaya)
The fire started around 2 am in room 403 on the 4th floor. When firemen arrived, heavy smoke was pouring from the room. Luckily the newly installed fire alarm worked properly and allowed guests enough time to escape from the building before the fire spread.
The fire was put out within 30 minutes. No one was injured. Police determined that the fire started from the air-conditioning unit which the guest in room 403, a Brit, had left switched on while he was out. However, the hotel issued a statement in which they said among others: “The cause of the fire was that the guest’s luggage was placed directly on top of the electric hot plates in the room, with the plates turned on prior to leaving the room.”
September 5, 2007 – The Mandarin Hotel (Bangkok)
The fire apparently started around midnight in a storeroom on the first floor of a 14-storey building in the Mandarin Bangkok complex. The complex also includes a seven-storey building, with 372 rooms total. There were about 500 guests in the hotel when the fire started.
The fire quickly spread to other floors and many tourists were trapped. Firefighters encountered difficulties evacuating people due to narrow passages. Helicopters dispatched to the hotel could do no more than fly over because there was no place to land. Some 16 tourists were injured from smoke inhalation, most of them Japanese.
Only one person, an Australian, was admitted to hospital. Firefighters calmed down several guests who wanted to jump from the upper floors and brought them to safety. Guests claimed that the water sprinklers didn’t work but the hotel management said otherwise.
October 19, 2009 – Fairtex Sports Club & Hotel (Pattaya)
It took firemen about an hour to completely douse a fire that started at around 9 am. Hotel staff quickly evacuated guests and there were no casualties. Investigators blamed the fire on an electrical short circuit in the sauna.
February 2, 2010 – Phra Nang Inn (Krabi)
A fire that started in a nearby laundry set the hotel on fire in the early morning, causing considerable damage to several rooms. The fire produced panic in guests but no casualties.
June 2, 2010 – Amari Atrium Hotel (Bangkok)
Two British Airways (BA) cabin crew accidentally started the fire in their room on the hotel’s 20th floor after leaving a lit candle on top of the television. After smoke alarms went off hotel staff forced their way into the room and rescued the two, who were sent to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. The fire was quickly contained but resulted in the loss of a Thai hotel porter who died 90 minutes after helping rescue the BA crew. Reportedly the man suffered from breathing problems which contributed to his death. Police took the BA employees into custody; they were released after BA bosses and hotel management came to an agreement on compensation for the family of the deceased man. Pol Lt-Col Karuna said there was no need to light candles as there hadn’t been any power outage.
April 29, 2011 – Jaopraya Resort (Pattaya)
It took firemen 30 minutes to extinguish a fire in room 313 on the third floor of the resort. A Russian woman staying in the room was out when the fire started. The room was completely gutted but no damage was done to the rest of the hotel and there were no casualties. Police suspect the cause of the fire was an electrical short.
December 6, 2011 – Pattaya Garden Hotel (Pattaya)
A fire that started around 3 am destroyed a laundry at the side of the hotel. It took fire crews about 30 minutes to extinguish the fire. The main hotel building apparently was left undamaged. Guests were running for their lives but there were no injuries. Once again, investigators determined that a short circuit was the cause of the fire.
March 8, 2012 – Grand Park Avenue Hotel (Bangkok)
The fire reportedly started on the fourth floor in a function room of the 15-storey, 221- room hotel shortly before 10 pm. When the fire brigade arrived, they found some foreigners screaming for help from the upper floors. Some guests wanted to jump from the windows but firemen convinced them to wait for cranes to rescue them. The fire was under control two hours later.
Two Russian tourists staying on the seventh floor died from smoke inhalation: a woman died at the scene and a man later passed away in hospital. Twenty-one other foreigners and two Thai nationals were also overcome by smoke. All were transported to nearby hospitals. Police said the fire was most likely caused by an electrical short circuit. It was reported in the media on March 15 that according to the investigatory committee, among other infractions, the hotel had neither fire exits nor a smoke blocking system.
March 31, 2012 – Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel (Hat Yai)
A large car bomb caused the blaze that left one woman and two men dead and more than 300 injured at the popular five-star hotel and shopping centre in the largest city in southern Thailand. Most of those injured suffered from smoke inhalation and cuts from shattered window glass. Some guests were injured after jumping from the building. There were also many injuries at the hotel’s large shopping arcade. In all 326 people were sent to five local hospitals; all but 28 were discharged quickly.
Firemen evacuated hotel guests from upper floors with an extendable ladder. Some guests knotted sheets together to escape from lower floors. The car bomb exploded around 1 pm in the underground parking lot of the shopping mall and set off a large blaze which took dozens of firemen four hours to extinguish.
December 26, 2012 – Royal Phawadee Village Resort (Phuket)
The fire at the well-known luxury resort near Patong beach started around 5.30am. Ten fire engines dispatched from Patong and surrounding districts raced to the hotel. It took firemen about an hour to bring the fire under control. There were no casualties, although some foreign tourists who rushed out of the hotel lost all their possessions.
Police said that about seven rooms were damaged, and five of these were gutted. The fire started in an electrical control room located between the Royal Phawadee and another hotel. A hotel security guard said he tried to put out the flames with an extinguisher but the fire quickly grew out of control.
January 1, 2013 – Ao Nang Buri Resort (Krabi)
Hundreds of tourists staying at Ao Nang Buri Resort ran for their lives, most of them to the beach after a fire alarm sounded around 7 am. The fire started in the hotel’s boiler room where 10 gas cylinders, each containing 16 kilogrammes of gas, were being stored. Local firemen put out the fire within 30 minutes and there were no casualties. Pol Capt Praphan said that “a hotel worker opened the valve on a gas cylinder so it could feed gas to the boiler, but it caught fire for some reason.”
January 27, 2013 – Grand Tower Inn (Bangkok)
Ten fire trucks were dispatched to the eight-storey hotel after an alarm was raised around 2 am. When firemen arrived, thick smoke was billowing from several floors of the hotel. Cranes were used to rescue foreign guests who called for help from their room balconies. It took firemen an hour to gain control of the fire. Eleven foreigners were hospitalised for smoke inhalation. Three of them were treated in ICU.
An investigation revealed that the fire started simultaneously in eight places. It was allegedly set by a Thai hotel employee who, according to police, had personal conflicts with the hotel management. He was found dead in a room on the third floor. The man left a message at his home in which he described a strong attachment to the hotel and said he was “ready to die with it”.
May 30, 2013 – Wiang Thong Hotel (Lampang)
The fire alarm in this 11-storey luxury hotel in northern Thailand sounded at 3 am, creating sheer panic among the 100 or so tourists who fled as smoke engulfed the hotel. Some tourists were transported to hospitals after they inhaled smoke, but there were no serious injuries. According to police, the fire started in a restaurant on the first floor. The cause was apparently a shorted power cable of a refrigerator in the restaurant.
July 22, 2013 – Gold Beach Resort (Koh Chang)
According to media reports, the fire started on the third floor of the resort at 7 pm. Tourists were rescued from the building by fire fighters. It is suspected that the fire was due to an unidentified short-circuit.
December 19, 2013 – Graceland Hotel Resort and Spa (Phuket)
At around 1.30pm a fire started in the laundry facility of the resort after some cleaning fluid caught fire. Five fire engines arrived and the firefighters were able to get the situation under control in a short time, assisted also by volunteer rescue workers. Thai staff were evacuated and no injuries were reported.
December 30, 2013 – Kaen Inn Hotel (Khon Kaen)
A fire that started at 9.30pm on the first floor of the 11-storey, 160-room luxury hotel spread quickly to the fifth floor, destroying 20 rooms. Police suspect an electrical cause. It took around 20 trucks two hours to bring the fire under control. All guests and staff were evacuated, with 10 people slightly injured from smoke inhalation and from slipping and falling during the evacuation. Fortunately, most hotel guests in the affected rooms were outside the hotel at the time of the fire.
February 25, 2014 – Koh Sriboya Resort (Krabi)
Thirty-five of the 40 bamboo bungalows at the small island resort were destroyed in a two-hour fire that started shortly before 8 pm, probably due to a short circuit. As there was little fire-fighting equipment on the island, villagers, hotel staff and the Russian tourists staying at the resort collected water from the sea to douse the flames. No one was hurt and the tourists were transported the same night to Phuket.
March 20, 2014 – Apex Hotel (Pattaya)
A fire started at 1.30am in a storage room on top of the seven-storey hotel. The fire alarm apparently didn’t sound, but fortunately, there were no casualties. Guests were evacuated as a precaution but some remained sleeping until the hotel staff apparently began knocking on doors hours later. Several fire units from the Pattaya fire brigade extinguished the blaze within an hour. The cause of the fire was once again believed to be an electrical short.
No one was injured in a fire that started at the boutique hotel around 5.45am. Thick smoke was coming from a room on the 2nd floor of the four-storey hotel and the guests, mostly Middle Eastern tourists, had already been evacuated when firemen arrived. It took 20 minutes to contain the fire which started in the room occupied by an Arab man who was out at the time. Police suspect the fire might have been caused by an unextinguished cigarette butt.
January 3, 2015 – Hollywood Beach Hotel (Phuket)
Asmall fire that started around 3 am was extinguished by firemen within 20 minutes. Heavy smoke was reported throughout the building. An American guest sustained a head injury while trying to climb down the side of the building and was sent to the hospital. The fire allegedly started at the reception desk due to a faulty electrical system.
March 10, 2015 – Rome Hotel (Pattaya)
A hot water appliance short-circuited, causing a fire that was extinguished by several police volunteers with fire extinguishers before firemen arrived. There were no injuries.
July 3, 2015 – JPK Mansion hotel (Sakhon Nakhon)
A fire that broke out at night at the downtown Sakhon Nakhon hotel forced all guests to flee the 120-room, five-storey building. The building was full of smoke and some guests were overcome, but there were no serious injuries. About a dozen fire trucks arrived and quickly had the situation under control. The cause of the fire was not determined.
September 10, 2015 – The Sukprasert hotel (Pattaya)
Firemen had the fire which started around 11.45pm under control very quickly. No deaths or injuries were reported.
June 6, 2016 – Lewiinski’s Hotel and Restaurant (Pattaya)
Firefighting crews rushed to the popular hotel in the afternoon as smoke was coming out from the top floors. The blaze was put out in a short time and no casualties were reported.
August 23, 2016 – Hotel name unknown (Pattaya)
Smoke was coming from a room on the 4th floor of the four-storey building which had been converted to a three-star hotel. All guests were evacuated before Pattaya firefighters arrived. It took them about 20 minutes to put out the fire. No one was injured.
November 7, 2016 – Tarin Hotel (Chiang Mai)
Around 200 hotel guests, mostly Chinese nationals, were evacuated after a fire broke out at 2.30am in a basement laundry room of the hotel. One person was injured and some rooms were damaged. About 12 fire units dispatched to the scene had the fire neutralised within an hour. Some guests on the 6th and 7th floors were forced to take refuge on the roof because smoke prevented them from escaping down the stairs. Firefighters rescued them without incident.
June 29, 2017 – Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit
Shortly after midnight, a fire started on the 6th floor of the five-star hotel and hundreds of guests were evacuated. Within about 20 minutes firefighters had control of the fire, which was reportedly caused by a short circuit originating in a room used for both running electric cables and disposing of garbage. No one was injured.