China orders fire-safety push after deadly Shanghai blaze
Wed, Nov 17, 2010

By D'Arcy Doran

SHANGHAI, China - China has ordered a nationwide overhaul of fire-control measures after a blaze at a Shanghai high-rise killed 53 people and highlighted the country's chronic problem with lax safety enforcement.

The inferno in the 28-storey apartment block raged for several hours on Monday, causing panicked residents to jump or seek refuge on rickety construction scaffolding surrounding the building, which was being renovated.

The State Council, China's cabinet, issued an order late Tuesday calling for a crackdown on lax observation and enforcement of fire-safety measures to "resolutely prevent and curb the occurrence of major fires".

The Shanghai blaze was the country's worst since a shopping mall fire in the northeastern city of Jilin also killed 53 people in February 2004, according to state media.

More than 70 people were injured in the Shanghai fire, with 17 still in critical condition. A total of 36 people were listed as missing.

The blaze was the latest in a rash of major fires, the government order said, coming just two days after a blaze in Beijing burned down the country's oldest university building on the campus of prestigious Tsinghua University.

It also cited a fire earlier this month at a commercial building in Jilin province that killed 19 people.

The government typically responds to public anger over major deadly fires by ordering such campaigns, but disasters blamed on lax safety continue.

Police have detained eight people in connection with the fire after an investigation indicated unlicensed welders were responsible, Shanghai police have said.

The head of the state-owned construction company renovating the building was among those detained, the Oriental Morning Post reported.

The State Council order called for comprehensive fire safety inspections of all construction sites.

Authorities have ordered news web sites to play down coverage of Monday's fire - especially "all comments lashing out at the government", Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday, citing a news portal editor.

Microblog comments on the fire were ordered removed and editors were also told to carry only stories from Xinhua, the official news agency.

Shanghai boasts about 5,000 high-rise buildings, including the country's tallest - the 492-metre (1,614-foot) Shanghai World Financial Center. About 100 buildings in the city are more than 100 metres high.

The city fire department said it had 4,573 fires this year, with the next-highest death toll being three.

The building's renovation had it swathed in scaffolding and plastic construction sheeting, which was blamed for helping the blaze spread quickly.

Such renovations and other building projects have picked up suddenly in Shanghai after authorities lifted a moratorium on major construction in the city centre during the six-month World Expo, which ended on October 31.

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