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November 16, 2010

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Safety concerns raised by fire

THE deadly blaze that ripped through a downtown high-rise yesterday has raised safety concerns about the city's large number of high-rises.

Shanghai, with around 15,000 high-rise buildings, has - like other cities with tall buildings - faces problems dealing with fires.

Questions have already been asked about what difference a specialised firefighting helicopter would have made to yesterday's rescue efforts.

Zhou Meiliang, an official with the Shanghai Fire Control Bureau, said if the department had such a helicopter, it could have improved their effectiveness. "A firefighting helicopter can inject water from the top," Zhou said.

Currently, the city owns only four police helicopters. These cannot carry water tanks and other heavy firefighting equipment.

Shanghai's emergency fire ladders usually extend up to 50 meters - hardly effective in high-rise buildings such as the one in yesterday's blaze, which has 28 floors and stands more than 70 meters high. Firefighters went inside another tower block opposite from where they could direct their hoses across to the burning high-rise.

Even though the immediate danger has passed with the flames extinguished, there is still a risk of the building collapsing, Shen Wenyuan, a local architect, warned.

Another problem is that, narrow roads also affect the efficiency of emergency services in the downtown area. At yesterday's blaze, some of the 61 fire appliances were backed up in the surrounding area as there was not enough room around the building.

By September 25, the city has reported 4,410 fires this year, killing 33 people and injuring 38 others. In yesterday's blaze, at least 42 people died.


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