Acer hit by blaze at Taiwanese high-tech offices

A fire that started early Saturday morning and burned for 37 hours outside Taiwan's capital, Taipei, has caused extensive damage in three of four buildings in an office complex packed with high-technology companies, including the island nation's largest brand-name PC manufacturer, Acer Inc. More than 200 local high-tech companies were reported affected by the blaze.

The complex, called the Eastern Science Park, is in Hsichih, to the east of Taipei. Local press reports estimate that the damage caused by the fire may total NT$6 billion (US$182 million) or more. There were no injuries among the companies with offices in the affected buildings, but two firefighters were injured slightly while putting out the blaze, local reports said.

"The buildings are just charred remains," Lauren Swartz, an Acer spokeswoman, said in a phone interview Monday morning. "It's a charred mess, there's broken glass everywhere and emergency vehicles are still parked outside."

Although Acer's corporate offices, including the company's sales and marketing operations, were unaffected by the fire, several of the company's subsidiaries were affected, including AOpen Inc., which designs and manufactures motherboards; HiTrust Corp., an Internet security company; Servex Group, a network of IT product distributors and developers; Pivotal Communications Inc., which develops voice software for routers; and Apacer Technology Inc., which designs and manufactures memory modules.

On Monday, those Acer subsidiaries affected by the fire were working from temporary offices and other locations, Swartz said, adding that the company does not expect product shipments to be adversely affected by the blaze.

Acer initially estimated Sunday afternoon that damage totalling NT$670 million [M] was caused by the fire. The blaze caused NT$440 million [M] in structural damage to the three affected buildings and NT$230 million [M] in damage to equipment and inventory contained within the burned-out offices, the statement said. Acer has fire insurance that will limit the company's losses to NT$130 million [M], it said. By Monday morning, however, those loss estimates appeared to be high, Swartz said.

"It's not as bad as they first thought," Swartz said, adding that precise figures had yet to be determined.

By late Monday, Acer released revised damage estimates which showed losses that, while significant, were less than the company had originally thought. The final estimate for damage caused by the fire was put at NT$500 million, with post-insurance losses estimated to be NT$70 million.

The reduced damage estimates were attributed to a firewall that effectively prevented the fire from spreading too far, the statement said.

The fire first broke out at about 4 a.m. Saturday in an unnamed design company on the third floor of Building A of the Eastern Science Park, and within a couple of hours firefighters believed it had been extinguished, according to a report released by the official government Central News Agency. On Saturday evening, the fire was found to have reignited on the building's sixteenth floor, and it eventually engulfed the top seven floors of the building before jumping to an adjacent high-rise, the report said.

Factors blamed for the extensive damage caused by the fire include high winds from tropical storm Cimaron, which passed to the east of Taiwan on Sunday, and the lack of ladders high enough to reach the floors that were on fire.

Taiwan Premier Chang Chun-hsiung has ordered a task force, headed by Minister-without-Portfolio Chen Chin-huan, to investigate the causes of the fire and to recommend measures to prevent a similar disaster in the future.

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