A fire that broke out at a 34-storey block of flats in Dalian yesterday prompted renewed concerns over fire safety in high-rise buildings on the mainland.
State media reported that external insulating material caught fire, with the flames quickly spreading to the interior of the building. No deaths or injuries were reported.
"The smoke was so thick and black. It quickly covered the top of the building," said a sales assistant at an optometrist's shop located 300 metres away.
The Jiete Apartments building is a local landmark at Xinghai Square, one of the largest city squares in the country. The building was completed in November 2011 and comprises mostly studio-sized apartments.
The flats are priced at more than 15,000 yuan (HK$19,000) per square metre, about 1.5 times the average price in the city, according to local property agents. But even in premium priced properties, developers commonly use cheaper materials, experts say.
"Fire-retardant materials cost 50 per cent more than common materials that can easily catch fire," said the owner of a shop selling fire extinguishers, who did not want to be named.
He explained that the true quality of many construction materials was difficult to gauge by eye. When construction quality inspections are compromised, developers can easily replace expensive fire-retardant materials with cheaper but flammable materials.
"Unfortunately, the rules and penalties for this type of construction fraud are too weak. It provides chances to opportunists," he said. "We continue to see fire accidents."
On November 15, 2010, a 30-storey apartment block in Shanghai undergoing renovation caught fire, killing 50 residents - mostly retired teachers - and injuring 70 others. The fire started after welders, in violation of safety regulations, worked near flammable materials such as nylon netting, wire and polyurethane foam. They were estimated to have caused more than 500 million yuan in damage.
Another costly high-rise fire occurred at the newly built, 34-storey China Central Television headquarters in February, 2009.
Xinhua reported that a fireworks company ignited powerful illegal fireworks which set the building on fire.
The blaze killed one firefighter and injured seven others. The damage from that fire was about 160 million yuan.