Hydrants faulty at Shenzhen market where blaze killed 16, witnesses say

Witnesses cite equipment failure in Shenzhen blaze; children among dead

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 11:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 4:46am

Authorities in Shenzhen are investigating the city's worst fire in five years, which yesterday killed at least 16 people, including at least three young children.

The death toll could be higher. The South China Morning Post spoke to the family of a five-year-old child killed in the blaze whose name was not on the official list of victims.

A further three people were injured in the blaze.

Witnesses said people trying to escape the blaze in the Rongjian wholesale market in Guangming found the fire hydrants were not working.

Wang Long, a security guard who works nearby, said he called police at 1.29am when he spotted the fire and then tried to wake up more than 20 people sleeping at the more than 260 stalls in the market, which opened in 2008.

"The fire hydrants were not working and the first four fire trucks arrived at about 1.40 am," Wang said. "The fire should have been under control if the safety equipment worked well. More people should have survived." he said. Many wholesalers stay at the market to unload fruit in the early morning.

The fire engulfed an area of more than 1,000 square metres before being brought under control by 145 firefighters and 29 fire trucks at 3am, the municipal government said. The cause was under investigation, it said.

Watch: Aftermath of the food market fire

Another fire occurred in Shenzhen yesterday when waste foam caught fire at a hotel under construction close to the airport's new terminal, which started service late last month. This fire was put out within about five minutes and no one was hurt. No flights were affected, the airport said.

Witnesses and survivors of the market fire said the children who died at the scene were from two families and between the ages of one and seven.

A family of six was believed dead, including two children, a relative, who refused to give his name, said. "We are natives of Meizhou city. [The father] had been making a living at the market for years. It's too pathetic the family of six were all gone overnight," the relative said. The name of one five-year-old victim was not on the list of casualties.

Another man said he lost his wife and their two children, aged one and two, in the fire. The man said he was too sad to offer further information and had not seen any of his family members' bodies by yesterday afternoon.

An 18-year-old man said his 46-year-old mother fled from the fire at first but went back into her shop to save her belongings. She never came back out.

"My mum's lot was too hard. She had taken care of five children alone by running the fruit stall after our father died seven years ago. Now we are grown up but she has left us forever," he said.