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No smoke without fire

  • Source: Global Times
  • [08:27 December 28 2010]
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One hour, 15 minutes

All reports of the once-highly publicized drill or press conference disappeared online within a day of the deadly fire, including Chen's assurances.

Shanghai blogger Han Han witnessed the whole thing.

"The first siren wasn't heard at the scene until 18 minutes after people noticed smoke and fire spreading out from the building," he wrote.

The first fire hose didn't start until 3:31, one hour and 15 minutes after the fire had started, he alleged on his blog.

Luo Lin, director of the State Administration of Work Safety and head of the State Council investigation team, announced in a special news conference on November 17 that a preparatory probe into the causes of the fire had identified two unlicensed welders as the culprits.

"More importantly," Luo said, "the fundamental reasons behind the fire were the illegal subcontracting of the project and poor management of construction safety."

"It was an accident that was completely avoidable."

State-owned Shanghai Jingan Construction Company subcontracted the Jiaozhou building renovation to Shanghai Jiayi Construction and Decoration Company, according to the Jingan district government official website.

Shanghai Jiayi subcontracted the project a second time to three private companies, according to a migrant workers' representative who worked on the Jiaozhou building and spoke to New Century magazine on condition of anonymity. Private company boss Shen Jianxin hired the unlicensed migrant welders.

A fire engulfed a similar Shanghai Jingan Construction Company energy-saving project at the Shanghai Bailemen Hotel on Nanjing Xilu on July 7.

Flammable materials and disorderly safety management caused the fire, according to local media reports.

Thanks to an early alarm and fast firefighting, no one was hurt.

Founded in 1987, Shanghai Jiayi's total annual income last year was 110 million yuan with net profits of 307,900 yuan that year, according to public information from the Shanghai Administration of Industry and Commerce.

Jiayi was blacklisted as an unsafe and unqualified construction company by the Shanghai municipal government in 2006 and 2008.

The Jingan district government praised Jiayi as a model company in 2006 and 2007.

Jiayi went on to complete 60 Shanghai engineering projects between 2007 and 2010 - mostly for the Jingan district government - according to Jingan District Urban Construction and Communications Commission records.

Cyanide smoke

The polyurethane applied to the exterior wall is not just dangerous because it's flammable, warned Zhu Liping, deputy director of the firefighting department at the Ministry of Public Security, at a press conference on November 17.

"The polyurethane material releases a highly toxic chemical - cyanide - which can easily kill a person if he breathes it," he said.

The day after the fire, the Global Times reporter noted nylon nets and chemicals on the ground in front of the two neighboring buildings.

A week after the fire, all the insulating materials painted on the exterior wall of all three buildings were ordered removed by the municipal government and all the scaffolding was demolished.

All construction work on the three buildings was suspended and the construction materials have now been sealed off for safekeeping.

The building was renovated using substandard materials that failed to meet flame retardant standards for a high-rise building, said Yang Zongkong, a senior consultant of the China Plastics Industry Association.

"The best quality insulating materials on the market cost 3,000 yuan a cubic meter while the cheapest cost 300 yuan," Yang said. "Many people would choose lower-quality materials to make bigger profits."

Compensation for all the destroyed property would be given at market prices, announced Jingan district chief Zhang Renliang at a city press conference on November 23. Each victim's family would receive a total 960,000 yuan: a 310,000 yuan social donation and 650,000yuan one-time compensation based on national law.

"If the unlicensed welders are the ones who pulled the trigger that started the fire," Wang said, "then who supplied the bullets and guns for them?"

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