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10 killed in apartment fire in northwest China’s Xinjiang



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BEIJING — A fire in an apartment building in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region killed 10 people and injured nine, authorities said Friday, in the second major fire in the country this week, leaving a total of 48 dead.

The fire broke out Thursday night in the regional capital of Urumqi, where temperatures have dropped below freezing after dark.

Flames spread upward from the 15th floor to the 17th floor, with smoke billowing up to the 21st floor, according to multiple state media reports. The blaze took around three hours to extinguish.

The deaths and injuries were caused by inhalation of toxic fumes, with those taken to the hospital all expected to survive, the reports said. An initial investigation appeared to show the fire was sparked from a power strip in a bedroom of one of the 15th-floor apartments, they said.

Aging infrastructure, poor safety awareness and, in some cases, government corruption have led to series of recent fires, explosions and building collapses around China, which continues to grapple with new COVID-19 outbreaks, prompting lockdowns and rigid travel restrictions affecting millions of people.

Videos circulated on social media showed an arc of water from a distant fire truck falling short of the fire, sparking angry comments online. Some said fire engines had been blocked by pandemic control barriers or by cars stranded after their owners were put in quarantine, but the reason why the truck was far away was unclear.

Many Xinjiang residents are frustrated with China’s harsh COVID-19 controls, including frequent testing, travel restrictions and rolling lockdowns. Some have been under lockdown for more than three months.

The Jixiangyuan community, where the Urumqi fire was, is designated a “low COVID-19 risk area” and residents were permitted outside their apartments, according to the reports. It wasn’t clear whether they were able to leave their compounds.

Urumqi has not experienced a major recent outbreak, with just 977 cases reported Friday, almost all of them asymptomatic. However, as in many parts of China, local officials fearful of losing their jobs are leaning toward more extreme measures to prevent outbreaks within their jurisdictions.

The tragedy comes days after 38 people died in a fire at an industrial trading company in central China caused by welding sparks that ignited cotton cloth.

Four people have been detained over the fire Monday in the city of Anyang and local authorities ordered sweeping safety inspections to root out potential dangers.

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