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Aftermath of the Shanghai fire: poor govt. supervision and dodgy sub contracting

Jingan building fire morning_6.jpg
Photo by Jon Browning

A summary of the aftermath of the Shanghai high rise fire, and a translation by Duncan Hewitt of an Oriental Morning Post story about why the fire was so difficult to contain.

As DNA tests are carried out on the remaining unidentified bodies recovered after the devastating fire in central Shanghai on Monday, public and official reactions to the disaster have been growing more intense.

The death toll now stands at 79 and as relatives mourn their dead by burning paper money at the foot of the Jing An tower, the city's officials have begun to respond to public anger over fire safety standards in a city with 20m residents, most of whom live in skyscrapers.

According to a flash on Shanghai Daily's website, city-wide fire safety checks were launched yesterday. The alert said that venues – especially construction sites – which fail to comply with standards will be shut down.

Already the official leading the investigation into the blaze has blamed illegal sub-contracting and poor government supervision for the devastation. Luo Lin, director of State Administration of Work Safety said that the “terrible accident which should not have happened, could have been completely avoided”.

Two unlicensed welders, who are alleged to have accidentally started the fire, have been detained along with six others. Early reports suggest that the blaze was caused by sparks from welding tools which set fire to the bamboo scaffolding and green netting that covered the 28-storey building as it was being renovated and insulated.

Shanghai Daily identified the contractor of the insulation project at the Jiaozhou Road compound as state-owned Jing-An Construction Co and the sub-contractor as its subsidiary, the Shanghai Jiayi Building Decoration Engineering Company.

A Twitter alert from Luo Changping, the deputy editor at business magazine Caijing, said the company which started the Shanghai fire is owned by the wife of the chief of Jing An district.

The president of Jiayi, Huang Peixin, has been taken in for questioning by the police as reporters trawl through the firm's fire safety records which seem to show that it either failed to meet standards or to carry out safety checks in 2006 and 2008.

Neither the authorities' efforts to explain the fire, nor the arrest of several people thought to have caused the blaze have done much to stem the flood of increasingly angry comments circulating online.

The tragedy even drew Han Han, the rebel blogger out of a period of near silence (he has barely updated his blog recently and been refusing interviews). Han Han who happened to be in the area when the building caught fire, blogged:

“I'm in a forest of skyscrapers and this a puny 28-floor building. From my angle I saw only one hose that could reach as high as the 20th floor, with the rest hardly reaching the 10th floor. Even the helicopter was useless. Beyond providing reconnaissance, it could't do anything.

“I believe in this case that Shanghai brought out all the hardware it has to fight high-rise fires. All I have to say is, it's not enough.”

Some Shanghai residents, fearing for their safety, have been taking matters into their own hands. Sales of fire protection equipment has rocketed according to one store owner on e-commerce website Taobao. The online shop owner Peng Daoying said he had received "lots of online and offline orders ... as well as inquiries".

In a survey by, about the impact of the fire, more than 70% of respondents out of 36,000 expressed fear about living in high-rise buildings, while 90% said they were worried about fire safety systems in the buildings.

The New York Times reported that the Website Huasheng Online, run by a Hunan Province newspaper group, described the quality of urban construction in blunt terms before being blocked by the government censors: “These short-lived constructions are the great disaster left by the Chinese real estate industry's insane attempts to make money”.

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