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Vietnamese Police Detain 2 Welders Suspected in Fatal Fire - 2002-11-01

Police in Vietnam have arrested two welders suspected of accidentally starting a massive fire that killed at least 61 people. The two men, if convicted, could face up to 12 years in prison.

The two welders told police they were working on an overhead lighting rig at a nightclub when a sheet of soundproofing material caught fire. They tried to put the flames out with their coats, then called for help. When fire extinguishers failed to stop the fire, the two men fled along with a third welder.

One of the men, Nguyen Phu Tin, later turned himself in to police and led them to Pham Viet Thanh. Police are still searching for the third man.

Although the cause of the fire at the Saigon International Trade Center in Ho Chi Minh City seems to be an accident, the men could face up to 12 years in prison. Police said they would push for the maximum penalty possible for breaking the fire code.

On Friday, rescuers called off the search for bodies in the blackened remains of the six-story business center. For the first time since Tuesday's fire, they let merchants back in to survey the damage and salvage what, if anything, they could in their shops.

The government put the official death toll at 61, but many are still missing. One fire official said Friday that the true number lost in the disaster might never be known.