Eight disabled children die in pre-dawn blaze at orphanage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2008, 12:00am

Eight mentally and physically disabled children suffocated in a predawn fire in an orphanage-nursing home in Huizhou , Guangdong, yesterday.

The blaze started when an incense burner used to repel mosquitoes ignited a bed quilt, creating intense smoke while the children were sleeping in the dormitory.

An initial fire department investigation laid the blame for the deaths on nurses' negligence.

'The mosquito incense coil was lit in a room where the door and windows were tightly shut. Strong smoke built up in the 18-square-metre dormitory when the incense ignited a bed quilt, engulfing about three square metres in flames,' a Huizhou fire department spokesman said.

He said the four boys and four girls, aged four to nine, were mentally disabled or physically handicapped and did not have the ability to save themselves. Nurses from the complex did not notice the fire until heavy grey smoke flowed through the windows of the ground-floor dormitory at 3.30am. The eight children were found dead at the scene.

The Huizhou fire department said the orphanage had not reported the fire.

'The blaze was small, and nurses extinguished it with basins of water in several minutes,' the spokesman said.

Mainland media reported that nurses from the orphanage had closed all windows and doors tightly because of the cold weather.

Huizhou party chief Huang Yebin ordered a joint investigation team to investigate the case and deal with problems arising from it. He also ordered a campaign to crack down on fire hazards across the city.

The provincial government said the Huizhou home was 12 years old, housed about 60 children and 80 elderly people and had a staff of 55 nurses and other workers. But the Huizhou Daily reported earlier that 70 disabled children at the home were looked after by just seven nurses who also had to bathe and feed them and do the laundry. Most orphanages on the mainland, funded by either the government or philanthropists, struggle on small budgets.