BEIJING // Fireworks set off to mark the Chinese New Year caused a blaze that gutted a five-star hotel in the city of Shenyang, two years after the same thing happened to an almost-completed hotel tower in the capital.
No one was hurt in the blaze early yesterday at the Royal Wanxin Hotel, although 50 people had to be evacuated after flames spread from an adjacent apartment block.
The official Xinhua news agency quoted police as saying fireworks caused the blaze in the 219-metre tower.
It took four hours for the blaze to be brought under control. Reports said firefighters struggled with hoses that could propel water only a quarter of the way up the building.
In the run-up to the celebrations, when fireworks are used to ward off evil spirits, authorities warned that the months without rain in northern China had increased the risk of fires.
Nevertheless, Beijing and other major cities were lit up for hours by dozens of displays, many held very close to buildings, with sparks striking windows and walls.
Cars had to navigate their way between lit fireworks and firecrackers placed in roads, with activity intensifying shortly after midnight. Fireworks were let off in multiple neighbourhoods last night.
In February 2009, during the final day of the Chinese New Year celebrations, Beijing's Television Cultural Centre, a tower next to the new headquarters of China Central Television (CCTV), was gutted by fire.
The tower was just months away from opening and was due to host a luxury hotel.
A fireworks display organised by CCTV employees was blamed for the incident and 71 people have been held responsible, with some jailed for terms of up to seven years. A fireman died fighting the blaze.
Extensive repairs on the tower began in August last year and are continuing, with the building's Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, having previously stated it had not suffered major structural damage.
Because of the fire risks after a long dry period, authorities banned fireworks in part of Beijing's central business district this year. Fireworks were banned in most of the city for more than a decade until the authorities lifted restrictions five years ago.
In recent months, dozens of people have died in explosions at fireworks manufacturers, despite government attempts to improve safety standards.
A total of 58 people died in a tower block fire in Shanghai in November, another reason fire safety has moved higher up the agenda.