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Firefighters defend response to deadly blaze


10:58, April 16, 2013

Firefighters in a Central China city where at least 14 people died in an April 14 blaze disputed media reports from the following day that accused them of incompetence in the rescue efforts.

The fire department of Xiangyang, Hubei province, said firefighters were immediately sent to the hotel on fire and arrived within 10 minutes after receiving the report.

The firefighters arrived at the site, which is 4 km away from the fire services' office, with two ladder trucks and rescued 68 people trapped in the fire, it said in a statement released on its Sina Weibo micro blog.

"However, the ladder trucks could not work properly as trees lined along the road were an obstacle," the statement said. "So the firefighters resorted to other options, including common ladders and ropes."

Earlier media reports said it took half an hour for firefighters to arrive at the scene and that they did not bring any ladder trucks with them, so some people trapped in the hotel had to jump out of windows and were seriously injured.

The fire started at an Internet cafe at the second floor of the five-story Yijing City Garden Hotel in Xiangyang at about 6 am on Sunday. Fire spread to other floors and trapped most of the 66 people staying in the hotel's 54 rooms, according to Xinhua News Agency.

As of Monday, 14 people were reported dead and 47 other injured, Xinhua said.

The owner of the Internet cafe where the fire started has been arrested. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Feng Shiqing, a 61-year-old worker at Xiangyang's tobacco factory, told Xinhua he was passing by the hotel when he saw that a woman had used a bedsheet to climb down from the fourth floor to the third floor of the hotel.

"The sheet is short and could only extend to the third floor, so she jumped," he said.

Luckily the woman was not hurt as he rushed under the window and caught her, he said.

"However, I shouted to some people in the fifth floor not to jump, but they wouldn't listen," Feng said.

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