On this day……..97 years ago, about 670 people were killed in a disastrous fire at Hongkong's Happy Valley racecourse. The track had been opened in 1846 to provide entertainment for British people in the colony, but had become even more popular with the Chinese.
On 26 February, 1918, thousands of people had flocked to the course, but just as the runners and riders were lining up for the first race, a huge fire broke out in highly inflammable temporary stands made of rattan and bamboo.
A reporter wrote that ‘awful confusion ensued’, and that the stands collapsed in a few seconds, with a sound like the ‘rasping of a saw’. A survivor recounted how he had at first urged people to stay calm, but that the structure had collapsed and he had found himself pinned under debris. He managed to cut himself out with a pocket knife.
An official inquiry declared that most of the dead were Chinese women and children. The cause of the fire has never been established, though it may have been an overturned cooking pot. Among the factors that turned it into a disaster were that too many people had been admitted to the stands, and that the inadequate water supply prevented the fire brigade from getting the flames under control until it was too late.