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Reporting on the CCTV complex fire

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Xinhua photo of the fire

Update: Xinhua reports that the cause of the fire was Class A fireworks set off in the complex during a display approved by CCTV. The broadcaster has apologized:

CCTV is deeply distressed over the great loss of state assets this fire has caused, and it sincerely apologizes to people in the surrounding area for gridlock and other inconveniences this has created.

* * *

The northern building of the new CCTV complex, which houses the Television Culture Center (TVCC) and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, caught fire last night at around 8:00. The fire spread quickly and soon the entire structure was in flames.

Official reports put the time of the fire at 8:27 and blame it on misuse of fireworks; the New York Times writes, "witnesses said they spotted flames as early as 7:45 p.m. Within 20 minutes, they said, the fire had spread from the lower floors to the building’s crown."

Netizens began posting about the fire shortly after it started. Well-known blogger Zola set up a clearinghouse for posts and photos. Here are some of the more informative English-language original posts and translations:

  • Shanghaiist has a number of videos and a selection of updates from Beijing-based Twitter users.
  • At CNReviews, David Feng has photos, video, and Twitter commentary.
  • Sun Bin has an eyewitness account of the fireworks display immediately preceding the conflagration.
  • ChinaSMACK translates BBS reactions and notes that news portals may have been instructed to limit information about the fire to Xinhua bulletins.

Accordingly, the incident hasn't been featured all that prominently on news portal front pages: Wang Xiaofeng has a collection of harmonious screenshots with nary a flame to be seen.

This morning, Xinhua's own website featured a fire smack in the middle of the homepage, but it wasn't from Beijing. A scheduled blaze during a Lantern Festival celebration in Korea ended up causing a stampede that led to the deaths of at least four crowd members.

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Xinhuanet.com at 9:50am, February 10 2009

The TVCC fire is mentioned in a link to a news roundup that says it's been extinguished.

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Today Morning Express
February 10, 2009

Photos and giant headlines about the fire were splashed across the front pages of newspapers throughout the country, but Beijing's own papers declined to follow suit. Instead of sensationalism, they featured stories that led with what was really important: the participation of the city's leadership.

Here's the Beijing Youth Daily's own report on the incident:

On February 9 at 8:27 pm, the TVCC building in the new CCTV complex construction site caught fire. After the 119 [emergency response] center received notification, it quickly dispatched sixteen squads and 54 engines to the scene.

Politburo member and Beijing party secretary Liu Qi, deputy secretary and Beijing mayor Guo Jinlong, and other city leaders hurrid to the scene to direct the firefighting effort.

Politburo member and Publicity Department director Liu Yunshan, and CCTV chief Zhao Huayong also arrived as soon as possible.

Through the efforts of the firefighters, the fire was brought under control by 11:58 pm, leaving only scattered flames but no casualties. The overall structure of the TVCC building was not seriously affected.

Agency investigations revealed that the fire was caused by unlawful use of fireworks; investigations into the accident will continue.

Update: Black and White Cat compares CCTV's own reporting from shortly after the fire broke out with an update after midnight. The first has images, the second, a lonely anchor reading off a perfunctory report much like the one translated above.

The Economic Observer reports that one firefighter has died and six others are seriously injured. The blaze was finally put out at 2:20 this morning.

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There are currently 13 Comments for Reporting on the CCTV complex fire.

Comments on Reporting on the CCTV complex fire

i think there were 2 rounds of fireworks form the cctv site. the first round started on around 730-740pm and the second round started around 8pm. it was about 15 minutes into the second round that fire/smoke was first seen.

fire truck arrived at around 830 (perhaps 10 minutes after the fire/smoke became clearly visible), at that moment the fire on the roof was still very localized (perhaps less than 1/20 of the roof area)

looks like a terrorist attack to me.

Why didn't it collapse like the Twin Towers?

this is arguably one of the more newsworthy items to have occurred in Beijing since the end of the Olympics, and yet the powers that be are apparently shrouding the unfortunate disaster silence.

"nothing to see here. please disperse," we're being told.

the city is missing a first-rate object lesson in negligence, fire safety and emergency management.

tisk tisk.

well vihad, methinks the lack of jet fuel could be a reason, but then again...methinks

it didn't collapse cause it didn't have a big fuck off hole in the middle. plus, it didn't have thousands of pounds of jet fuel burning away at the steel girders.

god, i hate conspiracy theorists.

it didn't collapse because it wasn't full of explosives like the wtc was...

China is being extremely stupid if it’s not permeating images and videos of the fire in its media. Only by infusing people all of the country with the horror of this disaster, can similar things in the future be avoided.

WTC 7 was not hit by an airplane.

Just a FYI: we probably won't publish any more comments in this thread arguing over the WTC disaster.

Hahahaaa... so you shouldn't. The connection to the WTC disaster is just not there. What's quite shocking is how people seem quite light hearted about the huge damage to a first rate building in Beijing. I personally hope they will ban firecrackers as they've done in Hong Kong. It's a lovely tradition, but it seems like there are too many unsafe firecrackers and fireworks around.

Did anybody watch the video of it on fire? I've never seen anything like that. I know it was under construction, but was it entirely full of paint thinner or something? Those explosions were MASSIVE, it looked like some pyrotechnic maniac had the thing rigged and ready to go, one final hurrah for the new year coming. I can't even recall any non-sci-fi/fasntasy movies with fireballs that big shooting out of buildings.

On the conspiracy theory side, I read somewhere the building was already a year behind schedule, perhaps the major investors (cctv?) were worried how well a new six star hotel would perform in the current economic climate and picked insurance money as the safer option.

I doubt there will be a ban on firecrackers. Seeing as how firecrackers are not the cause there's no precedent to banning them. Besides the usual accidents related to fireworks every year, they aren't powerful enough to light a building on fire. On the other hand, heavy fireworks will very likely be limited.

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