Wednesday, February 18, 2009

BEIJING – An Olympic-style fireworks display put on by China's state-run television broadcaster was the cause of a spectacular blaze that destroyed a luxury hotel that was part of the network's landmark headquarters in Beijing, a fire department spokesman said Tuesday.
The fire, which sent off huge plumes of black smoke and showered the ground with embers, left one firefighter dead and a handful of others injured, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The blaze was put out early Tuesday morning after burning for more than five hours.
Luo Yuan, a spokesman for the Beijing fire department, was quoted as saying by Xinhua that fireworks set off to celebrate the Lunar New Year were to blame for the fire that destroyed the unfinished hotel.
He was quoted as saying that China Central Television had hired a fireworks company to ignite several hundred large fireworks in an open area by the nearly completed Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Video footage seen on Youtube shows spectacular bursts of fireworks above the top of the 44-floor building in downtown Beijing.
CCTV did not show footage of the fire or mention it during its noon broadcast Tuesday.
"It is clear only that the cause was firing fireworks against regulations. The detailed cause is still under investigation," an official in CCTV's foreign affairs department of CCTV, told The Associated Press. The person refused to give her name because she did not have permission to speak to the media.
The 159-metre (520-foot) Mandarin Oriental hotel, designed by Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, was part of a stunning CCTV complex that helped transform the capital's skyline for last year's Olympics.
The dynamic Z-shaped CCTV tower next to the hotel has quickly become a symbol of a modernizing and powerful China even though it was not due to open until later this year. The whole complex cost 5 billion yuan ($731 million), according to Xinhua.
Luo told a news conference that the people from a company in Hunan province hired to set off the fireworks were being questioned.
Luo said the fireworks were similar to those used during the Beijing Olympics. Xinhua quoted him as saying because the fireworks were much more powerful than what was available at roadside stalls during the Lunar New Year holiday, approval was needed from the city government before they could be set off in downtown areas.
"The owners of the property ignored police warnings that such fireworks were not allowed," Luo was quoted as saying.
The CCTV foreign affair department official said CCTV owned the hotel building. It is jokingly called "Little Chick" by Beijing residents, while the CCTV twin towers are called "Big Pants" because of the odd angle they are at and how they are joined by two cantilevered arms at the top.
Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks downtown, but waives the rules each year during the Lunar New Year holiday. Monday was the final day for fireworks, marking the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and massive barrages exploded in open spaces throughout the city.
One onlooker, Li Jian, said he saw smoke rise from the hotel's roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks showered it with sparks.
"Smoke came out for a little while, but then it just started burning," Li said.
Dozens of fire crews were called to the scene, and police closed a nearby elevated highway to ensure safety.
A 30-year-old firefighter died after suffering respiratory tract injuries, Xinhua said.