When the fire alarm went off at a hotel in central Taiwan on Wednesday evening, Chen Chien-kuang, a 59-year-old missionary, immediately thought of escaping. But he was one of 29 people in coronavirus quarantine inside the hotel and worried about breaking the rules, which required those in quarantine to stay inside their rooms.
“I don’t know whether I can go out or not. I’m afraid that we will be fined if we go out,” Mr. Chen said in a video he took and sent to his son, which was released by the local news media and confirmed by his wife’s brother, Chen Yi-sa. “But if we don’t go, will we die in the fire,” he said.
Mr. Chen was among four people who died — three guests in quarantine and one firefighter — in the blaze, which has renewed concerns over the safety of Taiwan’s quarantine facilities and the wisdom of using hotels for the purpose. More than 20 people were injured.
The owner and manager of the Passion Fruit Hotel, which occupied three floors of a 15-story building in the central city of Changhua, told people to remain inside their rooms when the alarm sounded. At first he said that it was a false alarm, according to the video sent by Mr. Chen.
After the fire, the owner, Tsai Chin-feng, told the local news media that he had believed the building’s fire doors could withstand heavy smoke and keep the people inside safe. In a brief telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Tsai said he had not meant to put his guests at risk.
“We asked people to stay inside for the sake of safety,” Mr. Tsai said. “My intention was definitely not to let them fend for themselves.” He declined to comment further.
It took firefighters more than nine hours to extinguish the fire, the cause of which has not been determined. A spokesperson for Changhua County fire department said that building’s most recent fire safety inspection in May had turned up no violations.
The hotel, which was constructed in 1993, was previously a shopping center and arcade. But it suffered at least three earlier fires and sat mostly vacant for years. In 2018, investors renovated the building and reopened it, according to the Changhua government.
A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center told a news conference on Thursday that people would not be fined for violating quarantine rules if they faced “special circumstances” such as fires or earthquakes.