At the time of the fire, the Garley Building was undergoing internal renovation, in which new elevators were to be installed; one had been completely refurbished, with another almost completed. The other two elevator shafts in the building had had their elevators removed, and bamboo scaffolding installed within the shaft. The fire-resistant elevator doors were also removed to allow light into the elevator shaft so welders could see clearly. The welding was revealed to be the source of the fire. A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was also deployed to rescue people trapped on the roof, but quickly left after rescuing four people as it was feared that the rotating helicopter blades were making the fire worse. The role of the helicopter was later studied.
With the elevators unusable and the staircases impassable due to the smoke, firefighters had difficulty reaching the upper levels of the building, relying on four rescue ladders to rescue occupants who had opened the windows for fresh air. The flame was finally put out after 21 hours. For this incident much of the blame fell on the welders and occupants of the building, who were not properly trained in fire drills and knew little about building evacuation procedures. As a result of the fire, building regulations were quickly revised to prevent this sort of disaster from occurring again - indeed, since the revisions, there has not been a single year in which more than ten people have died from fires.
The Discovery Channel series '''' documented the events of the fire and subsequent investigation, labeling it the ''Hong Kong Inferno''.
The Garley Building was abandoned after the fire, but was not demolished until 2003, due to the difficulty of finding the owners of the businesses within. The original landlord of the building, China Resources Enterprise, originally intended to construct a "Ginza-style" shopping mall at the site, but later changed plans to build a new office building. Work on the building was completed in 2007.