Caixin
Nov 20, 2017 06:44 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Beijing Launches Citywide Inspections After Deadly Fire

Beijing authorities have launched blanket citywide inspections targeting unsafe buildings following a fatal fire in a suburb of the capital Saturday.

The fire broke out at 6:18 p.m. in Daxing district, about 10 miles south of the city center, killing at least 19 and injuring eight more, according to the official Beijing Daily.

The affected area reportedly consists of a compound housing small industrial plants and rental residences primarily for migrant laborers.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and several people, including the landlord of the buildings, have been taken into police custody, the Beijing Daily reported, citing local police.

A grim-faced Cai Qi, Beijing’s Communist party secretary, appeared on Beijing TV Sunday and labeled the fire a “a wake-up call.” He demanded resolve to crack down on mixed-use facilities with both shops and rental homes, particularly unlicensed buildings and poorly managed industrial plants, which in addition being safety hazards are responsible for high levels of air and water pollution.

The fire comes as China’s central government undertakes a massive campaign to cap the city’s population and to move parts of the capital’s less-vital functions to outlying areas.

As part of the campaign, numerous facilities central to migrant families have been ordered to close in recent years — including industrial plants, wholesale and retail markets, street-front shops and even schools for migrant children.

Many migrants who have chosen to stay in Beijing have been forced further into the city’s outskirts, moving into unsafe buildings and basement flats, according to critics skeptical of the government crackdown.

All roads leading to the site on the East Xinkang Road in Daxing were cordoned off early Sunday when a Caixin reporter visited the area. The Jufuyuan Residence building sustained the most damage, according to several locals.

That building housed shops and garment and chemical factories on the first floor, while the basement had been turned into refrigerated warehouses for local vendors. Some 200 families lived in rooms upstairs, locals said.

Most of those living in the building are migrants who work in nearby factories or are employed by courier companies, according to one tenant who only gave his surname, Tan.

Tenants pay about 600 yuan ($90.49) a month in rent for a unit inside the building, a fraction of the cost for an apartment in downtown areas. It is unclear if the buildings were licensed for industrial manufacturing, residences, or both.

Tan said he was alerted by smoke drifting into his room on the second floor around 6 p.m. Saturday, before he ran downstairs to safety.

Some tenants later tried to break in to save their loved ones, but gave up when they could hardly open their eyes in the thick smoke, he said.

A neighbor’s toddler is still unaccounted for, according to a tenant surnamed Yang.

Firefighters arrived at the scene with 34 trucks at about 6:40 p.m. and extinguished the fire around 9 p.m. They were seen carrying more than a dozen people, giving resuscitation to some before rushing them to nearby hospitals.

Most of the injured are being treated at the Daxing district hospital affiliated to Capital Medical University. An employee at the hospital contacted by Caixin refused to elaborate on the nature or severity of the injuries.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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