Fire destroys most of ancient Tibetan town of Dukezong in Shangri-la

Blaze destroys hundreds of buildings in 1,300-year-old settlement

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 1:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 4:21pm

A blaze that raged for nearly 10 hours has destroyed most of a 1,300-year-old Tibetan town in Shangri-la, in Yunnan province.

Hundreds of buildings, including one with monument status dating to the early 17th century, were destroyed in the fire which began early yesterday in Dukezong Ancient Town.

No injuries were reported but at least 1,000 people were evacuated. The cost of the damage was initially put at more than 100 million yuan (HK$128 million).

"My entire 10-year-old guest house with 47 beds was burned to ashes," said guest-house owner Zhou Peng. "This is the biggest fire we have ever seen. There were at least six gas-tank explosions."

The fire broke out at 1.30am and was brought under control by 11am, CCTV reported. Firefighters struggled to navigate the area's narrow streets and find water for their hoses. The town had only one water tank, with a supply of just 800 tonnes. That was exhausted after 10 minutes. The next nearest source was 1.5 kilometres away. Sub-zero temperatures froze the fire engines' water. Winds fanned the flames.

Locals estimated that more than 70 per cent of Dukezong was destroyed, including the town's central Sifang Street and a white Tibetan prayer tower.

The fire began at the Ruyi guest house, next to the prayer tower. It spread west. Two houses with monument status were destroyed, one of which was 379 years old, CCTV said.

The flames stopped 30 metres short of a a guest house owned by Sangjee Yangzom.

"Many firefighters are still trying to cool the burned debris because strong winds are bringing back the fire. We are also busy removing gas tanks from restaurants and continue to dump water everywhere," she said.

Dukezong, which means "town of the moon" in Tibetan, was built during the Tang dynasty. It became a landmark on the ancient Tea Horse Road, sometimes called the southern Silk Road. Its traditional dwellings have become tourist attractions.

Zhou said: "We hope whoever is responsible for the fire will take responsibility and that the government will give compensation."

Police secured the area as authorities investigated the cause. More than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, police, officials and volunteers responded to the fire.

On Thursday, in Sichuan province, a blaze broke out at the Serthar, or Larung Gar, Institute, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist institutes in the world and home to 10,000 monks and nuns. There were conflicting reports about damage.