China / Society

'Selfish drivers' blamed for high death count in fire

By Yan Yiqi in Wenling, Zhejiang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-01-16 07:09

Witnesses of a fatal blaze at a Wenling shoe factory said firefighters were prevented from getting to the scene sooner because "selfish drivers" refused to make way on the snarled roads.

Sixteen people died and 17 were sent to hospital on Tuesday when flames swept through the Taizhou Dadong Shoes Co building in Yangjiawei, a village about 10 km from the city center.

The fire broke out about 3 pm in a first-floor storage area and took emergency crews three hours to extinguish, Wenling city government spokesman Li Haibing said at a news conference on Wednesday. More than 20 workers were rescued.

Villagers said more lives could have been saved had motorists not blocked emergency vehicles from reaching the factory.

"The rescue services responded quickly to our calls, but there was a traffic jam and the firetrucks could not get through," said Liang Dalong, who lives nearby.

The three-story factory is connected to a main intersection by a 1.75-km stretch of road that is only wide enough for two vehicles, he said.

"We could hear the sirens blaring from a distance, but cars wouldn't make way," he said. "Firefighters were shouting, we were shouting too, but no one listened.

"If it weren't for selfish drivers, more lives could have been saved."

Taxi driver Chen Linjuan was taking a passenger to a nearby village and recalled seeing heavy smoke when she was about 3 km from Yangjiawei.

The road got more crowded closer to the scene, she said. "I saw ambulances, police cars and firetrucks all stuck in traffic."

Yu Changfeng with Wenling Fire and Rescue Services said 12 engines were sent to the scene. Yu did not comment on the traffic difficulties.

"Materials in the factory's storage area were highly flammable," Yu said. "The fire spread quickly and blocked the stairways for workers on the second and third floors."

Investigators are looking into the cause of the blaze.

On Wednesday, police detained factory owners Lin Jianfeng and Lin Zhenjian, and a manager identified only as Yu.

Villager Deng Xu said a friend of his who escaped the blaze with minor injuries estimated that 40 to 50 people were on the second and third floors when the fire started.

Workers lived on the top floor and just one narrow stairway linked three storage areas, with packing materials and leather stacked all around, he said.

Yang Xingui, who runs a grocery store about 200 meters from the factory and was among the villagers who rushed to help, said, "Workers on the first floor rushed out to the open ground of the factory and were crying for help, but there are walls around the factory that kept us from getting to it."

Some people used large sticks to smash the walls, he said.

"The air was filled with the smell of rubber. When we finally broke into the building, fire was everywhere on the first floor. There were people crying for help on the second and the third floors."

Rescuers found the bodies of 10 women and six men. Most were migrant workers from Guizhou and Sichuan provinces.

 'Selfish drivers' blamed for high death count in fire

A nurse gives oxygen on Wednesday to a girl who was injured in a fire in a shoe factory the previous day in Wenling, Zhejiang province. Ju Huanzong / Xinhua

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