Massive fire consumes luxury hotel in Beijing

BEIJING — A nearly finished 44-story luxury hotel that was part of Beijing’s Olympic construction boom was ravaged by fire Monday, while people set off fireworks to celebrate the end of Lunar New Year festivities.

The fire was the latest in a series of calamities to befall China since the tightly choreographed Beijing Games last August, including a severe economic slowdown, a tainted milk scandal and sporadic riots and protests.

Flames shot up the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, shattering windows and setting off explosions that showered sparks higher than fireworks lighting up the rest of the city. The fire was put out early today, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. One firefighter was killed, Xinhua reported. Six other people were injured, five of them firefighters.

The hotel dominates an unfinished cultural center adjacent to China Central Television’s new landmark headquarters, a modern Z-shaped building that helped reshape the city’s skyline. Part of the building was used during the Olympics; the 241-room hotel was set to open this year.


Xinhua reported that an initial investigation showed the fire was caused by “rule-breaking” fireworks, according to an unnamed city spokesman who didn’t elaborate. The Associated Press said people answering the phone at the Beijing Fire Department were unable to release any details.

Several witnesses said the fire started as the night sky filled with fireworks.

“Huge fireworks exploded over the building after 8 p.m., and sparks showered down,” said Ji Yuan, 14, a student who lives nearby. “The building lit up, and at first we thought there were more fireworks going off nearby, but then we saw the fire spread from the top, floor by floor.”

Another onlooker, Li Jian, said he saw smoke rise from the roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks. “Smoke came out for a little while, but then it just started burning,” Li said.

People are usually restricted from setting off fireworks downtown, but the government waives the rule for two weeks each year to celebrate the Lunar New Year.


Fireworks were especially raucous Monday night for the Lantern Festival, which marks the first full moon since the Lunar New Year. It also was the last night fireworks were permitted.

“I worry the government will ban fireworks after this fire,” said Wang Lijun, a juice bar worker watching the hotel inferno. “Fireworks are traditional; it does not feel like New Year without them. Maybe they can just ban the biggest type of fireworks.”

David Howell, an American in Beijing who worked for two years on the adjacent television headquarters, said, “There’s a reason why a lot of cities have restrictions on fireworks and have controlled celebrations.”

Fireworks this holiday season have killed and injured numerous people. On Jan. 31, in southeast Fujian province, New Year revelers set off fireworks inside a bar, causing a fire that killed 15. In the first five days of the New Year celebration, 403 people were injured by fireworks, Xinhua said.

The hotel and TV complex were designed by Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren. “I think it’s really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public,” said Erik Amir, a senior architect with the firm, who rushed to the scene.

Away from the blazing hotel, Jennifer Liang and her family continued to set off fireworks Monday night from a cardboard box.

“It’s fun, and not so dangerous,” Liang said. “But if the government bans fireworks again, we will obey.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Link to original article


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Cush In SF on February 12, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Disasters suck. That is for sure. But is it possible that Chinese had a reason to burn that hotel down before it opened? We will never know.

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