Three firefighters have been killed in an inferno that raged for nearly 22 hours through a shop and office building and a neighbouring hotel in Urumqi , the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region .
There were no reports of other casualties and the blaze was under control by 6pm yesterday.
The fire broke out on Wednesday night in Dehui International Plaza, a 12-storey building housing more than 2,000 vendors of clothes, cosmetics, toys and other consumer goods. The sellers occupied the first four floors plus the basement, while the remaining floors were used as offices.
'We received a call from that building at 8.25pm,' an official from the Urumqi fire department said.
Mainland media reported that a security guard first noticed the fire in a mop stall on the plaza's first floor and the blaze quickly spread to an adjacent hotel.
Most vendors in the building had finished their day's work and customers had cleared out of the market by 8pm as usual.
Xinhua reported that the lower floors of the building housing the stalls were badly damaged by fire and firefighters were forced to retreat when the upper floors, still ablaze, threatened to collapse.
They then tried containing the blaze in the adjacent 20-storey hotel, from which occupants had already been evacuated.
More than 61 engines and 230 firefighters tackled the blaze.
Xinhua reported that more than a thousand vendors watched from outside as the fire tore through their businesses. As the fire engulfed the buildings, one tearful vendor said she had lost 100,000 yuan worth of stock.
Most of the vendors did not have business insurance and wanted compensation from the government.
Dehui International Plaza was owned by a businessman from Wenzhou , in Zhejiang province , who invested 380 million yuan in the project.