Unattended heater blamed for blaze that wrecked ancient Shangri-la town

Guest-house boss may have left device on, sparking fire that ruined ancient town

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:42am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:42am

Mainland authorities have detained a guest-house operator whose unattended heater allegedly sparked a fire that burned for nearly 10 hours and destroyed an ancient Tibetan town in the south.

More than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, police, local officials and volunteers responded to the early morning blaze on January 11, which destroyed 343 houses and many historic artifacts in Dukezong Ancient Town, Shangri-la, in Yunnan province.

No injuries were reported but 1,000 people were evacuated.

A local guest-house operator was detained and was being investigated for allegedly causing the fire after she forgot to turn off the heater, which later set fire to a curtain, Xinhua said.

The Shangri-la government have yet to confirm the report.

Strong winds may have caused the fire to spread quickly through the neighbourhood, which comprised mostly wooden structures.

Local authorities have said a million-dollar fire prevention system failed to avert the fire, with witnesses saying hydrants failed to pump out water and that fire engines were kept outside the area's narrow alleys.

Some questioned whether fire prevention had been overlooked in the rush to develop the old town to attract tourists.

The county surrounding Dukezong renamed itself Shangri-la in 2001, hoping to draw tourists by referencing the mythical Himalayan land described in James Hilton's 1933 novel.

In 2005, the county started to renovate its ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong, which dates back to more than 1,000 years and is known for its preserved cobbled streets, ancient structures and Tibetan culture.

Tourism is virtually the only industry in the region.