At least 53 killed, over 90 injured in Shanghai apartment fire

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

China's Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday that at least 53 people were killed in Shanghai during a deadly fire. The blaze, which occurred on Monday at 2:15 p.m. CST (0615 UTC), consumed a 28-story high-rise apartment building in the city's Jing'an District.

The building was being renovated at the time of the fire, and was home to over 150 families. At least 100 victims have been admitted to area hospitals, although some later died. Most survivors were not seriously injured, but needed treatment for smoke inhalation. Firefighters were still looking for survivors and over 70 were still hospitalized on the morning after the fire.

The fire was the worst in recent Shanghai history and took over 100 fire engines more than four hours to contain. Strong winds blew heavy smoke into the air, hampering rescue efforts by helicopters. The smoke was seen by witnesses around 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) away from the high-rise. The fire was largely extinguished by 6:30 p.m. local time (1000 UTC), allowing fire and rescue officials to enter the building.

The apartment building, built in the late 1990s, was home to mainly retired teachers. Some residents climbed down the scaffolding to escape, while others called for help but were unable to flee the blaze. "I saw at least four or five people hanging onto the scaffolding which covers the building, screaming for help," said Li Qubo, who was working near the high-rise.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but local residents said fire safety regulations were not strict, and workers often tossed used cigarettes into the building's hallways. Qiu Jingshu, a 38-year-old worker who was outside the 18th floor when the fire struck, said he saw sparks from welding being done on an adjacent building fly over onto the high-rise. The sparks lit up foam on the scaffolding around the apartment, according to Qiu. "We had tried to put out the blaze, but the fire was so big and spread so quickly that we could barely escape ourselves," he said. Crews were said to have been installing insulation at the time of the fire, and witnesses saw construction materials on fire before the building was overtaken by flames.

Two nearby buildings were evacuated, and their residents were temporarily sent to local hotels, and a school. Meng Jianzhu, China's Minister of Public Security, said that an investigation would determine who was responsible for the fire, so they could be punished accordingly. Meng said that a team had been formed under China's State Council to look into the disaster.

A similar incident occurred in Beijing early last year. In February 2009, the illegal use of fireworks caused a fire that gutted a 34-story building under construction at the time.

Shanghai has a population of about 20 million, housed mainly in high-rise apartments. Many buildings in the city are under construction or being renovated.


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