Henan Governor Li Keqiang is reported to have submitted a letter of resignation to Beijing over the Christmas Day Luoyang fire that killed 309 people.
The Henan provincial Government submitted a self-criticism letter last Thursday to the State Council and Communist Party Central Committee, admitting its 'inexcusable mistakes' regarding the poor safety standards blamed for the high death toll in the Dongdu Commercial Building.
Beijing has instituted a system in which leading officials of a city or province are held responsible for major accidents in areas under their jurisdiction.
The most senior officials to be punished so far have been Huang Zhendong, Minister of Communications, and Shandong Governor Li Chunting, over the November 1999 ferry accident in Yantai, Shandong province, in which 282 people died.
In the case of the Henan Governor, the resignation will probably be rejected. 'It's unlikely the central Government will accept it - but politically it's the right thing for Li to do,' said one analyst.
The tragedy at Dongdu Commercial Building in Luoyang was the second major fire in the province since Mr Li took over the governorship about a year ago. In March, 74 were killed when an illegal video parlour burned down in Jiaozuo city.
Mr Li, 45, was China's youngest governor when he was appointed in 1998. A Beijing University graduate, he is said to be reform-minded and a rising star. He is considered part of the so-called Fifth Generation of leaders - officials in their 40s.
It is widely expected that the Fifth Generation politicians will assume vice-ministerial posts and follow Fourth Generation leaders, such as Vice-President Hu Jintao, and current vice-premiers Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo in a few years when Third Generation stalwarts such as President Jiang Zemin step down.
The promotion of Mr Li was also believed to be related to Mr Hu's effort to consolidate his position as the heir-apparent. He promoted a few of his proteges to senior posts.
Mr Hu headed the Communist Youth League in the mid-80s, when Mr Li was a member of the Youth League's Secretariat.
The Luoyang municipal government news office yesterday denied the existence of a resignation letter, and said it was unaware of any personnel changes.
In Luoyang, the mourning and funeral services continued. A total of 222 bodies, of the 294 identified, had been cremated as of December 31, according to Xinhua.
Across the country, campaigns have been launched to improve safety standards for karaoke bars and nightclubs.
Guangdong has joined Beijing in forcing the closure of places of entertainment that fail to comply with fire safety standards, according to Xinhua.
Two minor fires broke out over New Year in Luoyang in buildings 200 metres away from the Dongdu Commercial Building. But the fires were put out immediately, according to the Luoyang Daily News.
The city was continuing with its fire inspections, the report said.