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China Building Fire That Killed 39 Was Caused by Construction Work

A fire at a building in southeastern China that killed at least 39 people was set off by unauthorized renovation work, officials said Thursday.

The fire broke out around 3:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday in Xinyu, a city in Jiangxi Province, in the basement of a six-story building where workers were renovating a cold storage unit in violation of regulations, officials announced at a news conference on Thursday morning.

The building housed an internet cafe on the ground floor, and an educational center and a hotel on the second floor, according to the officials and Chinese state media. The higher floors were residential.

Most of the victims were vocational college students at the educational center, who were studying to transfer to bachelor’s degree programs, as well as hotel guests. In addition to the 39 people killed, nine were injured, one critically, on Wednesday night, officials said.

“Because the fire was too big to be extinguished in time, thick smoke poured through the hallway into the second floor,” Xu Hong, the mayor, said at the news conference.

On Wednesday night, Xinyu officials had ordered all off-campus educational institutions to suspend classes and perform fire safety checks, Zeng Xianfeng, the head of the city’s education bureau, said at the event. They had also inspected all educational institutions, especially boarding schools, for fire hazards.

Twelve people were being investigated in connection with the fire, including the head of the educational institution, officials said.

A video posted on social media by the Communist Party-affiliated outlet Beijing News on Wednesday showed that the building had been engulfed in thick black smoke.

Other videos posted by social media users, of what appeared to be the same building, showed people jumping from upper floors to a mattress on the ground outside, and a boy climbing down a ladder, wearing a backpack. The videos could not immediately be verified.

Reached by phone, the owner of a restaurant across the street from the building where the fire broke out said that she had delivered food to the basement earlier this week. While there, she saw four or five workers there working on what appeared to be renovations, seemingly including welding, she said, declining to give her name.

The complex where the fire broke out, called Jialeyuan, consists largely of residences on top of businesses, and is home to about 300 people, according to The Paper, another party-affiliated news outlet. It is an older complex, with cars parked haphazardly, the outlet said, citing local officials’ reports; the local government had renovated it in October to “improve its appearance.”

In response to the fire, Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, noted that the blaze was “yet another major production safety accident that has happened recently,” and ordered officials to “overcome a mentality of slackness and pushing one’s luck,” state media said.

On Friday, a fire at a kindergarten and elementary school dorm in central China’s Henan Province killed 13 people. While the official state broadcaster did not identify the victims of that fire, some state-affiliated news media said that they had been in the same third-grade class.

A fire at a mall in Xinyu also killed two people in late December.

Research was contributed by Li You, Joy Dong, Chris Buckley and Siyi Zhao.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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