China orders fire safety overhaul after Shanghai blaze

Published
media captionThe apartment block has continued to smoulder throughout the night

China has ordered a nationwide overhaul of fire prevention measures after a blaze in a Shanghai high-rise apartment block killed at least 53 people.

The State Council - China's cabinet - said construction sites and skyscrapers would come under particular scrutiny.

Dozens are still missing after fire engulfed the 28-storey block on Monday.

Police have detained eight people on suspicion of criminal negligence. Officials have blamed unlicensed welders for starting the fire.

More than 70 people were injured in the fire, with 17 said to be in a critical condition. Thirty-six people are missing, local media reported.

DNA tests have helped identify 26 of the victims who were burned beyond recognition.

The fire reportedly started on the 10th floor which was beyond the reach of the first fire engines at the scene.

Questions are being raised about whether the building was equipped with enough fire extinguishers, and whether residents and workers had undergone fire drills.

Public criticism

The State Council has called for a crackdown to root out lax observation and enforcement of fire safety measures.

The order says the blaze in Shanghai was just the latest in a string of major fires.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Shanghai says safety campaigns like this are often ordered after major disasters but they do not seem to make much difference.

In residential buildings many people are more concerned about burglaries than fire, officials say, claiming that people lock fire doors or block escape routes.

The Shanghai apartment block, which housed teachers - many of them retired - was being renovated.

It was covered in bamboo scaffolding and plastic sheeting, which was blamed for helping the fire spread quickly.

The blaze has exposed loopholes in the country's efforts to prevent major loss of life from fire, our correspondent says.

Reports suggest local newspapers have been told to tone down the criticisms in their coverage.

The Shanghai fire chief, Chen Fei, sought to deflect public criticism of the government's handling of the incident, saying firefighters had done the best they could, given the conditions.

"Residential high-rises have more flammable materials and more sources for causing fires. They have metal security doors, so rescuing people can be very difficult," he said.

One of China's commercial hubs, Shanghai has some 20 million residents and at least 5,000 high-rise blocks.

Comments posted on the internet suggest local people are now worried the authorities do not have the equipment to protect those who live in them.

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