Fireworks put city on red alert

08:31, January 31, 2011      

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Against the backdrop of the capital's lengthy drought, which has continued for about 100 days, and the resulting elevated fire risk, firefighters have been ramping up their efforts to contain the danger.

In a bid to keep the lid on the risk, 26 densely-populated communities outside the Fifth Ring Road will each be guarded by a fire truck throughout the Spring Festival this year.

In addition, all 560 points of sale for fireworks will be monitored with the help of cameras, so rescue teams can be dispatched as soon as any problem arises.

"Everything that is going on there at the fireworks stalls will be transferred to the bureau at once," said Liu Guozhong, director of the fire prevention division at the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Fire Prevention.

The bureau knows it will not be easy to douse the risk from fireworks this year - some 910,000 boxes of pyrotechnics, 14 percent more than last year, are on sale in the city.

Xia Chunlei, a press officer with the bureau, said firefighters want to keep everyone safe without spoiling their Spring Festival fun.

"We must ensure everyone can have a whale of a time setting off fireworks," said Xia, who admitted that the dry city and the larger-than-usual amount of fireworks in it has put everyone on edge.

"Fires are more likely to break out," he said. "And they will spread more easily once they start."

The bureau was called out to more than 400 fires in January.

"When Beijing first allowed people to set off fireworks and firecrackers six years ago after the earlier ban, there were 45 fires reported during the first five days of Chinese New Year," said Luo Yuan, deputy chief of the fire brigade. "The figure went down by five each year, reaching 25 last year, but we can't promise a continuous fall this year due to the dry weather."

He said the bureau is doing all it can to minimize the risk.

Liu Guozhong, head of the bureau's fire prevention division, said all police officers will also watch out for fire risks this year. In the past, the work was done entirely by firefighters.

Also, because almost 90 percent of reported fires involved an accumulation of flammable materials, the bureau has cleaned up nearly 5,000 tons of combustible materials since December, said Luo. He said people are only allowed to store one box - or 30 kilograms - of fireworks or firecrackers in their homes. Larger stores of fireworks must be kept under guard in warehouses.

Luo also addressed the risk of fire in high-rise buildings, emphasizing that flammable materials must not be stored in corridors and that fire-fighting equipment must be in good working order.

"In case of fire, try to escape straight away, instead of waiting in the building for a rescue," Luo said. "Don't miss your best opportunity to evacuate the building, which is in the first 30 minutes."

Luo said people setting off fireworks should also be aware of where such activity is banned, such as around historic buildings and gas stations.

Fireworks and firecrackers went on sale within the Fifth Ring Road on Saturday and will be available until Feb 17.

Large fireworks are only for sale outside the Fifth Ring Road.

Since October, municipal police officers have seized more than 7,500 boxes of illegal and counterfeit fireworks, which are mainly transported to the city from Hebei province and Tianjin, Beijing Evening News reported on Sunday.

The only three authorized direct distributors of fireworks are Panda Fireworks, Yanlong Fireworks and Doudou Fireworks. People are allowed to set off fireworks around the clock on Feb 2 and 3 and between the hours of 7 am and midnight on Feb 4 and 17.

Source: China Daily

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