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December 8, 2011

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Fires in warehouse, store kill 5 amid concerns about safety

FIRES swept two locations in the city early yesterday, killing a total of five people. The tragedies, which occurred while fire-safety checks were being carried out citywide, served as a reminder about hazards during the coming dry season.

The first fire was reported in a warehouse at 12:11am in the Pudong New Area, city authorities said. Two workers, a man and a woman, died of smoke inhalation, police said. The fire was put out by 1:45am.

The warehouse, converted from farm houses and built mainly of wood and brick, had been rented to a car interior decoration company and a furniture company, authorities said. The decoration company operated a car cushion business and the furniture company processed mattresses, police said.

Flammable materials such as cotton and chemical fiber were burned in the 300-square-meter warehouse, officials said.

Fire soon spread to a two-story worker dormitory in the same compound, where the two deaths occurred. There were four workers inside.

"Two young people managed to get out, climbing over a gate and escaping," said a witness.

The other two did not. Police said the victims were a 54-year-old man surnamed Gu and a 65-year-old woman surnamed Zeng.

The second fire hit a car parts store in Putuo District about 2:20am, leading to the deaths of three members of a family covering three generations.

The store, alongside Jingtai Road next to a parking lot, was largely destroyed. The owner, surnamed Liu, was seen "rushing outside calling for help" soon after the fire. However, Liu's mother, wife and son, were stranded inside and their bodies were found after the fire was put out about 2:40am, officials said. More than 10 fire engines were brought in to put out the fire.

Neighbors said the boy was three years old and had just learned to walk. The grandmother was in her 50s.

A security guard at the store's parking lot said that "an electric bike, which was being charged, caught fire."

Liu, alerted by the smoke, tried to put out the fire but failed. Witnesses said Liu broke out of the locked door and went for help. But fuel and equipment in the store fanned the flames, witnesses said.

A few similar stalls next to the store were also partly damaged in the fire. Neighbors said the families usually sleep in the stores at night after doing business in the day.

The causes of the two fires were still under investigation, the fire department said.

The city, using a carrot-and-stick approach, is trying to eliminate fire dangers that threaten public safety, more than one year after an inferno that killed 58 in a residential high-rise in Jing'an District.

"We should always keep in mind that hidden dangers lie in every possible aspect once we loosen up," Zhang Xuebing, Vice Mayor and the head of city police department, recently told a citywide conference mobilizing authorities to uproot hidden fire hazards. Zhang is leading the citywide fire-safety effort, which is expected to last until February.

The carrot is an offer of rewards for tips on fire hazards.

The stick is stronger punishments for illegal acts such as operating a business without a fire-prevention license, blocking evacuation passages and locking the safety exits. Violators will be fined and detained, and their businesses will be closed, authorities say.

City officials warned the cold, dry season in winter will increase fire risks.


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