SHANGRI-LA, Yunnan, Jan. 12 -- Saturday's inferno that burned down an ancient town in southwest China's Shangri-la county once again stirred up concerns over commercial development of ancient towns.
The Dukezong ancient town, known for well-preserved Tibetan dwellings, lost nearly 300 houses, or two thirds of the entire town, in the worst fire in the history of the 1,300-year-old town.
Inns, cafes, souvenir shops and dwellings in the "Town of Moonlight" have become heaps of rubble, relocating some 2,600 residents who are still counting huge losses they suffered.
However, the blaze in Dukezong was not the first fire disaster that had damaged ancient towns or buildings across China in recent years.
In October, a blaze torn down an ancient building complex in central China's Hongjiang Ancient Town. Asia's No. 1 covered bridge in Chongqing was destroyed by fire in November. Another fire also raged in the old town of Lijiang, Yunnan Province, in March.
Wooden construction that facilitates fire spreading, narrow lanes that hamper firefighting efforts and lack of equipment are common reasons to be blamed for fires in old towns or buildings.
Saturday's fire broke out at an inn in Dukezong, where most houses were made of wood. Chen Tianchang, head of the fire department of Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, said fire engines could not get through the narrow streets and some fire hydrants were empty because the water supply was shut down during winter to prevent the pipes from being damaged by frozen water.
These have delayed the firefighting efforts, Chen said.
Li Gang, director of cultural relics protection department of Deqen, said that the town was designed wisely for fire prevention in the history. For example, enough space was preserved between buildings to prevent the fire from spreading.
"However, a lot of such space have been consumed in order to accommodate more restaurants, shops and inns as tourism booms," Li said. "We have to reconsider the traditional principle of architecture while enhancing fire extinguishing facilities."
Local government has been vigorously promoting the tourist industry since the county was officially renamed Shangri-la in 2001. Tourists swarm in to appreciate the beauty of the famous trading hub on the ancient Tea-Horse Route in southwest China.
But with limited capacity and space, the town now grapples to accommodate more visitors and measures to prevent fire are often ignored, Li said.
Lou Jiajun, director of tourism department of East China Normal University, said preserving modern lifestyles of local residents while taking safety into consideration has become a common challenge for those ancient towns .
He suggested to better planning the layout of the town, for example, to move some high-risk businesses, in terms of fire prevention, out of the core area of the town.