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Broadcaster linked to fatal-blaze fireworks

AN unapproved fireworks display by China Central Television caused a fatal blaze that swept through part of the broadcaster's hypermodern complex in Beijing, a fire brigade spokesman said yesterday.

A fireman died after inhaling toxic gases when fighting the blaze at the still unopened 30-story building. Six firefighters and a construction worker were injured.

The dead firefighter was identified as Zhang Jianyong, political instructor for the Chaoyang branch of the Beijing fire brigade. The injuries to the others were not considered life threatening, said Luo Yuan, deputy chief of the Beijing Fire Control Bureau.

About 600 firemen, along with 85 fire engines, fought the blaze that heavily damaged the building that houses the nearly completed luxury Mandarin Oriental hotel. The fire started at 8:27pm on Monday and was put out at around 2am yesterday.

CCTV hired a fireworks company to set off several hundred large festive firecrackers outside the building, which caused the fire, Luo said. The event coincided with the Lantern Festival marking the end of Lunar New Year celebrations.

The powerful fireworks should not have been set off without approval from the municipal government, Luo told a press conference. Police tried to intervene, but their warnings were ignored.

Four camcorders recorded the fireworks display and the entire ignition process. The people who set off the fireworks were being questioned by police and the rest of the fireworks have been seized.

The western, southern and eastern external walls of the building were burned, but the major structure was not damaged, Luo said.

In addition to the hotel, the building also houses a television studio and a data processing center. The hotel and the data processing center were destroyed, but the studio and the northern external wall were saved.

Firemen used 98-meter ladders to combat the blaze; however, they were unable to get water to the top of the 159-meter-tall building.

"The wind was strong on the upper floors of the building, and it fueled the fire. The fire control facilities inside the building have not been put into use yet," Luo said.

CCTV apologized yesterday for the losses and traffic congestion caused by lethal blaze. The flames paralyzed traffic in the area and halted operation of a subway line on Monday night.

About 80 percent of the building was charred. No sign of damage was seen on the CCTV main tower about 200 meters away.

More than 600 people living in three buildings near CCTV's new headquarters were relocated to adjacent hotels. Government authorities were assessing the safety of the residential buildings, some of which sustained window damage.

In a statement posted on its Website yesterday, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group said the hotel was empty at the time of the fire, though some witnesses claimed they saw some lights on in the building before the fire.

The group said it is under contract to manage the hotel but has no ownership interest in the building. The hotel was used during the Olympics but wasn't slated to officially open until mid-2009.


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