Welding sparks likely set off South Pattaya fire that destroyed 8 buildings

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Welding sparks blown from the roof of a Persian restaurant to a storeroom filled with flammable liquids are believed responsible for setting off a Walking Street-area fire that damaged eight buildings and caused up to 100 million baht damage.

A single firefighter was injured in the Oct. 22 afternoon blaze near Soi 16 and Pratamnak Road. Firefighters needed more than three and a half hours to gain control of the inferno that began behind the Abu Saeed Restaurant at Pratamnak Road at Soi 16 near the Marine Plaza Hotel.

Abu Saeed cashier Sophee Seesangh, 28, said it took less than 10 minutes from the time she spotted smoke for the fire to spread.

Chonburi fire investigator Col. Anukul Preedayuth believes sparks from welding equipment being used on the restaurant’s roof set off either an explosion or fire in a storage room for paint thinner and other chemicals at the adjacent Rattakorn Trading Co., a construction-supplies depot. Rattakorn owner Phaibun Ruangrattanakorn said employees informed him of the fire but, by then, it was too large to extinguish himself.

Twenty-five fire and emergency vehicles from across the Eastern Seaboard responded to the firestorm, which was consuming the four-story Rattakorn structure by the time they arrived. Pressurized tanks for gas, oxygen and cans of paint and thinner accelerated the destruction, causing loud bangs as they exploded.

Hampered by the exploding tanks, firefighters couldn’t stop the fire from jumping to the adjacent Charoenpong Hardware. Small explosions continued, as the TOA Paint dealer’s collections of cans detonated. Emergency workers tried to pull gas canisters out of the burning shop to minimize damage, but flames soon leaped to a Kasikorn Bank currency-exchange booth, the Abu Nawas Restaurant & Hotel and four other buildings.

Caretaker Wichai Samrueng, 55, said a cleaning woman working on the top floor of the four-story building reported smoke coming from Rattakorn and staff evacuated all the hotel guests.

Pattaya Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department officials called in reinforcements from Sattahip and Sriracha, who reported they could see smoke from the blaze 10 kilometers away.

Chonburi Police Station commander Lt. Gen. Khatcha Thatsart took control of the scene, shutting down the northern end of Pratamnak Road. Nearby hotels evacuated after the back wall Rattakorn Trading collapsed. One firefighter was injured and transported to Banglamung Hospital.

About 3½ hours after it began, the fire was controlled and authorities set up a perimeter around the scene as investigators began looking for the cause of the blaze. Firefighters worked throughout the night drowning the last flames and embers. The northern end of Pratamnak remained closed for a day as investigators sifted through the rubble. Most of the damaged buildings were declared unsafe and must be demolished.

Khatcha blasted Pattaya zoning laws that allowed such combustible materials to be stored so close to the city’s main tourist district, hotels and restaurants.