One killed, seven injured in China hotel fire (Lead)

February 10th, 2009 - 4:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Feb 10 (Xinhua) A fireman died and seven people were injured in a massive fire that engulfed an unoccupied hotel tower adjacent to the new iconic China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters here, fire officials said Tuesday.

Zhang Jianyong, an official with the Chaoyang branch of Beijing fire brigade, succumbed to his injuries Tuesday afternoon, while six firefighters and a construction worker were receiving treatment at a hospital, said Luo Yuan, spokesman and deputy chief with the Beijing Fire Control Bureau.

“It is heartbroken that Zhang could not celebrate his 30th birthday days later this month,” Luo said.

Zhang inhaled toxic gas while he worked to put out the fire. His parents have arrived in Beijing from their home in Shenyang, capital of northeastern Liaoning Province.

About 600 firemen, along with 85 fire engines, fought the fire that destroyed most of the 30-story building that houses the nearly-completed luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The fire started at 8:27 p.m. Monday and was put out at around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

CCTV hired staff from a fireworks company to ignite several hundred large festive firecrackers outside the building, which caused the fire, Luo said.

Those powerful fireworks should not have been set off without approval from the municipal government, Luo said, adding that police had tried to intervene but their warnings were ignored.

Four camcorders recorded the fireworks display and the entire ignition process. The people who ignited the fireworks are being questioned by the police and remains of fireworks have been seized.

The external walls of three sides of the 159-metre tall building were burned, but the major structure was not damaged, the spokesman said.

In addition to the hotel, the building also houses a television studio and an electronic data processing centre. While the hotel and the data processing centre were destroyed, the studio and the northern external wall were salvaged by firefighters.

“Wind was strong on the upper floors of the building and it fuelled the fire. The fire control facilities inside the building have not been put into use yet,” Luo said.

The flames paralyzed traffic in the area and halted operation of a subway line Monday night.

Tuesday morning, the site was crowded with journalists snapping photos of the ruins, as well as several thousand onlookers — mostly residents who lived near the site and witnessed the fire Monday night. Traffic in the area has returned to normal.

In a statement posted on its Web site Tuesday, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group said the hotel was empty at the time of the fire, though some witnesses claimed they saw some lights on in the building before the fire.

The 200-room luxury hotel was used during last summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, but was not due to be officially opened until the middle of this year.

The hotel and CCTV’s main tower were both designed by Rotterdam-based OMA. Total investment is about five billion yuan ($714 million).

Monday was the traditional Chinese Lantern Festival and fireworks were allowed in downtown Beijing until midnight.

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