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No smoke without fire

  • Source: Global Times
  • [08:27 December 28 2010]
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A Shanghai firefighter shoots water at the Jiaozhou building in Jingan district at 3:30 pm on November 15. The fire started about 2:10 pm. Photo: Cai Xianmin

By Liu Dong

Few readers would have noticed a Shanghai newspaper brief mentioning a fire in a Jingan district snooker club on July 25 that almost engulfed the apartments above. There were no reported casualties or injuries.

District chief Zhang Renliang and a dozen officials arrived at the scene on Shimen No.1 Road 90 minutes after the fire started, barking orders at shopkeepers and watching as firefighters finally succeeded in beating back and dousing the flames.

Twenty families moved back home about 9 that evening, some noticeably shaken by events, according to a staff member of the Nanjing Xilu neighborhood committee who refused to be named.

Officials would meet the owner of the snooker club and building tenants and sort out all issues including compensation, Zhang said. All the residents' issues would be addressed, he said.

"We'll do our best to handle the situation," he told the Global Times reporter, "and prevent similar accidents from happening again."

No further information was ever released. What Zhang said that day might well have been forgotten but for the worst fire in half a century of Shanghai history that struck five months later in the same district: Zhang's district.

City officials had been preparing a victory party to celebrate the completion of the World Expo when 58 people including a Japanese citizen died in the blaze, according to Shanghai government statistics. Seventy-one were recorded as injured, 14 critically and 36 people missing.

Shanghai government refused to disclose a complete list of victims of the five-hour fire even after a private investigation by the activist artist Ai Weiwei identified two more victims on top of the official toll. Death counts are an important and sensitive issue on the Chinese mainland as compensation can be denied victims not on the list.

Liu Yunjie, a 60-year-old retired prosecutor living in Room 1003 on the 10th floor of the Jiaozhou building, called in the fire at 2:10 pm on November 15. His call was "one of the earliest" according to firefighting authorities who later confirmed it had started on Liu's floor.

Liu had knocked on neighbors' doors until it was too late to escape, his neighbors said. When Liu's charred corpse was found in the aisle of the building, it was barely recognizable. His wife Fu Qingxuan, who had been at work when the fire broke out, refused to identify it.

"The fire was not extinguished by firefighters but burned itself out," said a man surnamed Wang from Room 2203, whose wife and mother both died in the fire. He asked the Global Times not to reveal his full name.

"The government has not yet published any official investigation results about why those people died and who should take real responsibility for the fire," said Wang, whose daughter survived.

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