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Fatal Nanjing building blaze prompts safety drive in entire Jiangsu province

By Li Wenfang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-25 23:53

A crowd gathers outside a residential building in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, after it caught fire on Friday. The blaze killed 15 people and injured 44. [Photo by Yang Bo / China News Service]  

Safety inspections have been ordered across Jiangsu province, after a fire in a high-rise residential building on Friday killed 15 and injured 44 in Nanjing, the provincial capital.

The blaze in Yuhuatai district was reported to the local fire department at around 4:39 am on Friday and was put out by 6 am. The search and rescue operation at the site ended at 2 pm, according to the city government.

Among the 44 injured who were sent to hospital for treatment, two were in critical condition, it added.

A preliminary investigation suggests that the fire broke out in an open area on the ground floor of the 34-story building, where electric bicycles are parked and charged. Further investigations are underway, said Liang Jun, head of the Nanjing Fire Rescue Detachment, at a news conference on Saturday.

Xin Changxing, the provincial Party secretary, and Xu Kunlin, the governor, visited the injured in the hospital on Friday.

Xin called for every effort to provide the best treatment to those injured, help the families of the victims and assist those who had to be evacuated from their homes.

At a provincial fire safety conference on Saturday, governor Xu requested a thorough inspection across the province to detect and rectify fire hazards. A list of possible hazards will be compiled and those found not addressing the problems will be held accountable, he said.

Cities such as Nanjing, Suzhou and Nantong launched the inspection and review drives on Saturday. In Nanjing, authorities will inspect all major buildings including 15,000 high-rise residential blocks and 238 large markets to rectify potential fire hazards, the Nanjing Daily reported.

Many fires related to electric bicycles have been reported in recent years. A fire safety expert quoted by news website ThePaper.cn, who did not wish to be identified, said there were problems with both the old and new versions of electric bicycle batteries.

The older lead-acid batteries are relatively stable but problems may arise if these are charged improperly, the expert said, adding that the newer lithium-ion batteries can explode in the event of a thermal runaway episode. This occurs when the battery cell reaches a certain temperature, triggering a chain reaction that causes the battery to heat abnormally within seconds.

Some residents of the community where the fire broke out on Friday had earlier expressed concern about too many electric bicycles being parked in the open space on the ground floor, posing a fire hazard, and had called for proper firefighting facilities.

A resident of a neighboring building had told a local TV program in 2022 that he once saw more than 180 electric bicycles in his building after 8 pm. A fire had broken out in the building in 2019 when an electric bicycle was being charged. There were no casualties in that incident.

A representative of the company that looks after the maintenance of the community had then said the open space on the ground floor of the buildings had not been designed for parking electric bicycles and that proper firefighting facilities would be put in place.

The regulation on fire safety at high-rise buildings issued by the Ministry of Emergency Management requires that a safe distance be kept between such a building and the place where electric bicycles are parked or charged.

The place where electric bicycles are parked or charged should be installed with firefighting equipment and the charging equipment should be automatically cut off when a battery is fully charged.

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