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Deadly fire sparks work safety concerns


07:57, June 04, 2013

A person injured in a fire accident at a poultry slaughterhouse in Dehui is wheeled to a hospital in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, June 3, 2013. The death toll from the fire at the poultry slaughterhouse owned by the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company in Mishazi Township of Dehui City has risen to 119 as of Monday afternoon, the rescue commanding center said. The cause of the fire is under investigation. (Xinhua/Zhang Nan)

>> Speical Coverage: Scores Killed in Massive Poultry Plant Fire

CHANGCHUN, June 3 (Xinhua) -- A fire that killed 119 people at a poultry factory in northeast China's Jilin Province on Monday has raised concerns over China's often-criticized lax work safety conditions.

The fire broke out around 6:06 a.m. at a poultry processing workshop owned by the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company in Mishazi Township in the city of Dehui, located about 100 km northeast of the provincial capital of Changchun.

Health authorities said 60 people have been hospitalized, including eight people who are in life-threatening condition.

President Xi Jinping, who is currently on a visit to Costa Rica, has demanded all-out rescue efforts to minimize casualties.

Xi has urged authorities to ascertain the cause of the fire and hold those responsible accountable.

Premier Li Keqiang in a separate instruction asked local authorities to prioritize life-saving efforts.


Jilin Baoyuanfeng is a large poultry company, slaughtering and processing 1 million chickens annually. The company employs more than 1,200 people, though it said only 411 of them have signed formal work contracts.

Over 300 workers were in the plant when the fire began, according to witnesses, adding that they heard "loud bangs" before seeing dark smoke and flames rise from the building.

About 100 workers managed to escape from the plant, the witnesses said.

"I started working at 6 a.m. along with another 100 workers in my workshop," said Wang Fengya, a 44-year-old employee who was injured in her escape.

"Soon after, someone shouted 'run away!' and we quickly ran to the exit, which is about 40 meters away from where I sit. Suddenly, the lights inside went out and the plant went dark," Wang said.

Wang said she fell down and hurt herself while escaping. "When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw large flames," she added.

Wang and another three workers were sent to the Changchun Central Hospital with mild injuries.

The plant's complicated structure and narrow exits made rescue work difficult, local rescuers said.

Another worker surnamed Liu said she saw several workers fall into a pool of water inside the workshop while trying to escape.

"But I was so scared at the time that I had no way to help them. All I could do was to run," she recalled.

Guo Yan, a 39-year-old employee, said the emergency exit was blocked when the fire broke out.

"Everyone was swarming toward another workshop. It was so crowded that I was harshly pushed and squeezed. But I didn't stop for even a second, even when I stumbled and lost my shoes," she said.

Local authorities have sent 67 fire trucks and more than 500 firefighters to the scene of the fire, as well as combed the area looking for survivors.

The building's steel frame could be seen after the fire was put out at noon Monday.

Local environmental authorities have begun monitoring the environmental impact of the fire.

People living nearby said they could smell a pungent odor after the fire broke out, with some suffering from headaches. Nearly 3,000 residents have been evacuated.

Some victims' families have arrived at the scene and demanded a government investigation into the cause of the accident as soon as possible. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Those who are suspected of being responsible for the accident have been taken into police custody for further inquiry.

Search and rescue efforts remain under way. The exact number of people still trapped in the plant has yet to be confirmed.


The fire is the third major work safety accident to occur in northeast China in the past week and one of the most deadly in recent years.

On Sunday, an oil tank explosion in neighboring Liaoning Province left two people dead and another two missing.

A tank containing diesel oil residue exploded around 2:20 p.m. at a PetroChina outlet in the port city of Dalian, causing a nearby tank to burst into flames.

Although environmental authorities said nearby seawater has not been polluted, some residential communities were affected by fumes. Oil barriers have been erected in waters near the factory as a precaution and the local government has advised nearby residents to close their windows.

In Heilongjiang Province, located north of Jilin, a fire raged through a large grain storage center last Friday, causing tremendous economic losses, although no casualties were reported.

The blaze, which occurred in Huayuan Township in Lindian County, was first spotted at one barn around 1:15 p.m. Strong winds and high temperatures helped it eventually spread to another 80 barns.

It is estimated that about 1,000 tonnes of grain were consumed in the fire.

An investigation has shown that sparks from a broken wire ignited reed mats and sacks near the barn, triggering the fire.

On Monday, nine people, including the barn's manager, were charged with criminal negligence.


Enterprises' willingness to flout work safety laws, as well as the negligence of local work safety supervisors, have led to frequent industrial accidents in China, particularly in the country's mining industry.

The government has taken stricter measures to improve safety at workplaces, lowering casualties over the years. However, heavy fatalities from accidents like the fire in Jilin indicate that the outlook for workplace safety remains bleak.

President Xi Jinping vowed last Friday to deepen a national safety campaign, adding that safety is a basic requirement for people's happiness and health, as well as for national development.

At a Friday conference for "Safe China," a national campaign to ensure civilian and national security, Xi called for more efforts to solve "deep-rooted" safety issues in a systematic, integrated and lawful manner to ensure people's livelihoods, social order and the country's long-term stability.

However, observers say China has a long way to go to ensure work safety.

The sprawling expansion of cities has brought more plants closer to the residential areas, posing safety hazards to the populace. In addition, the development of China's work safety measures has lagged behind the growth of its economy.

To avoid more tragedies, experts said safety rules must be followed strictly. In the meantime, workplace supervision must be fully carried out in order to protect workers' lives, experts said.

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