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High-rise fire threat stirs push to change rules across country

By Zhang Yan | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-13 07:35

People click photographs of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Beijing that was on fire Feb 9, 2009. [Agencies]

Fire control authorities will try to push local governments to slow the development of high-rise buildings and reduce the security risks of existing ones to prevent human and property losses, a senior official said.

China now has 619,000 buildings taller than 24 meters and apartment buildings taller than 27 meters, according to the Fire Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security. It said 42,000 of them have illegally used flammable external insulation materials.

Of all high buildings, 6,457 are super-high-rises of more than 100 meters, and the number has been growing by 8 percent a year-2.5 times of the world's average growth rate of such super high buildings, said Du Lanping, deputy director of the bureau.

"Such high buildings are usually with complicated structures and multiple functions. Once a fire breaks out, it's hard to put it out and will result in heavier losses compared with other types of buildings," she told China Daily.

Firefighters also may face some practical difficulties, such as water supply and glass curtain walls, which could make it more difficult to put out a high-rise blaze, she said.

Figures from the bureau show that in China this year, there have been 5,046 fires in tall buildings, causing a direct economic loss of more than 80 million yuan ($12.1 million). In the past 10 years, the total number of such fires was 31,000 nationwide, claiming 474 lives with an economic loss of 1.56 billion yuan.

The latest big fire occurred on Dec 1 in a high-rise in Tianjin, killing 10 and injuring five. The fire broke out on the 38th floor in piles of discarded decorations and other materials, but fire control facilities failed to function because the construction enterprise had privately drained stored water for firefighting, according to the initial probe by the municipal government. Eleven people have been detained and the exact cause is still under investigation.

"We're still facing a grim task in fighting blazes in high-rise buildings and are making efforts to eliminate the hidden dangers," Du said.

She said that in the previous years, flammable external insulation materials were often used for tall buildings, posing a serious fire risks.

Many tall buildings lack routine fire control checks or proper management, resulting in the congestion of evacuation passages, the damage of firefighting facilities or messy electric wires, which all may lead to fires, Du said.

In July, the bureau launched a six-month special security campaign of tall buildings across the country, and has rectified 161,000 hidden fire risks, according to the bureau.

Du said fire control authorities are coordinating with other departments to further reduce fire risks, such as drafting a fire control regulation for tall buildings.

"The regulation will have specific stipulations on management responsibilities and standards for such buildings," she said. "In the future, fire control departments will also try to push for the amendment of the Fire Prevention Law to slow down the development of high buildings nationwide to reduce urban security risks."

Conspicuous signs will be installed on buildings with flammable external insulating layers, and no source of fire or fireworks are allowed near such buildings, she said.

Moreover, more high buildings will be equipped with automatic fire extinguishing facilities and these facilities are expected to be connected in a remote monitoring system of fire control departments.

Once they get damaged, a warning will be sent to the monitoring system to remind supervisors.

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