Beijing orders city-wide investigation after deadly fire

Updated 2017-11-20 09:04:12 Xinhua
Firefighters work at the site of a fire in Daxing District of Beijing, capital of China, November 19, 2017. Nineteen people were killed and eight others injured according to local authorities. (Xinhua/Luo Xiaoguang)

Firefighters work at the site of a fire in Daxing District of Beijing, capital of China, November 19, 2017. Nineteen people were killed and eight others injured according to local authorities. (Xinhua/Luo Xiaoguang)

Cai Qi, secretary of the Communist Party of China Beijing Municipal Committee, has ordered a 40-day city-wide safety check after a deadly fire killed 19 people and injured eight more.

A fire broke out Saturday night at a three-story apartment at Xinjian Village, Daxing District in the southern suburb of the city. A total of 19 people died. Eight people were sent to the hospital, and seven of them have been out of danger.

Preliminary investigation showed there was a refrigeration facility in the basement of the apartment, where fire was likely to have started, according to fire fighters.

There was heavy smoke in the building but no large flames, said the fire fighters.

Cai Qi and acting mayor Chen Jining led other officials to the site of the fire Sunday morning and stood in silent tribute to the dead.

"Lessons of the fire is extremely grave. The city must be on high alert. We must take actions and protect people's lives and safeguard the safety and stability of the capital," said Cai at a city-wide meeting convened Sunday afternoon.

Cai ordered a cleanup of industrial compounds, illegal construction and disorderly venues in order to eliminate fire risks. The city-wide cleanup work starts Monday.

He urged local officials to check every village and every courtyard for security risks.

An investigation team has been set up to ascertain the cause of the fire and those who are held accountable will be punished.

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Ye Changlong, a 27-year-old garment factory worker who lived on the third floor of the burnt apartment building, said he could be the last one to have escaped.

"I was taking an afternoon nap in my room and slept through until around 6:40 p.m. My dog kept barking and woke me up. Then I smelled the pungent smoke and realized there must be a fire," said Ye. "I did not have time to find my pants. Jumping out of the bed, I took my dog, grabbed a coat and stepped into my slippers before running all the way downstairs. There was heavy smoke in the stairway, so I could not breathe or make out the direction. When I finally made my way down to the yard, where many people were already standing. They were all tenants like me."

"I was the last one to have escaped," Ye repeated as he stayed at a nearby hotel, holding his dog tightly in his arms. Other witnesses said they wanted to rescue their neighbors but didn't have time to do so as they were engulfed by heavy smoke.

Ye, a native of east China's Zhejiang Province, and his wife worked in the same garment factory in Daxing. The couple rented the apartment at a monthly cost of 600 yuan (about 152 dollars) about six months ago. About 50 people lived on the third floor, he said.

"My company will move to Tangshan (in Hebei Province) next year. This apartment building is also about to be demolished, but it was burnt at the last minute," he said, rubbing his head in dismay.

Beijing fire squad said it dispatched 14 fire teams and 34 fire engines after it received a call about the fire at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. The fire was put out in about three hours.

The Daxing district government officials say that they have contacted 25 family members of the victims and set up working groups to deal with relevant affairs arising from the deadly fire.

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