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January 8, 2013

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Produce market fire robs livelihoods, lives

A MAJOR farm produce market where many merchants live illegally to watch over their goods 24 hours a day turned into a raging inferno that killed five and injured 14, some critically, on Sunday night in the Pudong New Area.

One merchant who escaped, only to rush back into the building to retrieve a large amount of cash, never made it back out.

More than 2,000 square meters of the 50,000-square-meter wholesale market on Hunan Road and Huaxia Road W. were burned.

Living at the city's markets has not been allowed since a fire in 2010.

But many merchants in the wholesale market, which is open 24 hours a day, lived beside their stalls to take care of their goods, especially those selling live fish and other aquatic creatures.

The fire was triggered about 8:30pm in the dried food area of the market and soon spread to the aquatic food area nearby.

The market filled with heavy smoke, disorienting the sellers.

"The fire spread as fast as I ran," a female survivor told a local TV news reporter.

"The fire was chasing behind and there was even no time for me to wear shoes," she said.

"I saw a man trying to break into a store, saying he had tens of thousands of yuan in cash inside it," a witness surnamed Zhang, an aquatic products store owner, told Xinmin Evening News.

"The firefighters couldn't stop him," he said.

When his body was found later, he was seen holding bundles of money in his arms, the newspaper said.

One vendor described waking up to a horrific scene: "I was sleeping and the fire just surrounded us. My two kids caught on fire and fell off the bed. They and my parents-in-law were all seriously burned. I don't know what to do." Xie's husband had gone out to make purchases and was unhurt.

One of the injured, surnamed Zhu, had burns on 85 percent of her body, with 50 percent being third-degree burns, the most serious.

Zhu, 57, will be under strict observation at Changhai Hospital for at least three weeks to one month, the hospital said.

"Zhu was in danger and her conditions were not stable and could take a turn for the worse in any moment," a hospital spokesman surnamed Qian said.

Part of the market reopened yesterday morning as fire investigators continued to work.

Tan Xun, a firefighting official, said the most common, potential danger at such wet markets is wires and electrical appliances.

Many renting stalls use heaters to ward off the cold.

"Some fire-prevention equipment has not been updated long past its useful life," said Tan.

"Also irregular wires were seen everywhere, with many products piled up inside illegally built warehouses."

It took 57 fire engines and hundreds of firefighters to extinguish the blaze at 9:20pm, while heavy smoke kept coming out of the market late into the night.

At least 117 stalls were burned by the inferno and the total economic losses were still being determined.


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