Harbin hotel where fire killed 19 ‘had failed 5 safety inspections’

Owner detained amid claims that inspections had highlighted fire hazards long before Saturday’s blaze

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2018, 6:01pm

The owner of a spa hotel in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin where a fire killed 19 people and injured 23 on Saturday has been detained by police, as it was reported by state media that the building had failed at least five fire safety inspections in the past two years.

The Harbin public security bureau said via its official social media account that it was questioning the legal representative of the owner of Beilong Hot Spring hotel on suspicion of negligence regarding the fire, which started at about 4:30am on Saturday and was extinguished at 7:50am, state media reported.

The blaze killed 18 at the scene, while 24 people were taken to hospital, of whom one later died.

Formerly a private recreational facility of a state-owned bank, with complex, maze-like passageways, the 200-plus-room hotel had been a known fire safety risk for years, media reports of its alleged fire safety record suggested.

It was found unsafe by the city’s fire department in a fire hazard inspection in 2016, Thepaper.cn reported on Sunday, with no exit signs or fire extinguishers in some areas.

19 dead and 23 injured in hotel fire at Chinese resort

The hotel was ordered to suspend its operations until changes had been made, Thepaper reported, adding that it was unclear whether the hotel had complied.

According to Legal Daily, Harbin fire authorities had conducted six further inspections of the hotel since last December, four of which it failed to pass. By law, the authorities have the power to suspend a business in such circumstances.

The revelations came as hotel guests spoke of their narrow escapes from the burning building.

Luo, a 65-year-old tourist, told China Youth Daily she had sustained severe spinal injuries as a result of jumping from a third-floor window, having woken up choking on the smoke.

She said she and her husband, who had been among a group of more than 90 from Beijing who were staying at the hotel, had opened their room door and found the corridor full of smoke. The only way out, she told the newspaper, was through the window, which was “quite high from the ground”.

“When I recall the scene, I still feel a shiver,” she was quoted as saying. “I heard many people have died. We are the lucky ones.”

The authorities said they were unable to name the 19 people who died. “Their identity remains to be checked,” said a spokesman for the city government in a press conference on Saturday.

An injured male tourist, also from the 90-strong tourist group, told Xinhua news agency of the chaos as rescue attempts were made. He had been among the first to get out, leaping from a window on the fourth floor, the hotel’s highest storey, without having had time to dress himself, he said.

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The Beilong hotel, located in the heart of the Sun Island resort area, a major tourism site to the north of Songhuajiang River, was formerly an exclusive resort owned and run by the China Construction Bank for its employees.

In 2015, during the anti-corruption campaign of recent years by the national government, the bank sold the property to a local businessman.

After Saturday’s fire, a past guest at the hotel, who stayed there earlier this month, added a review on Ctrip.com, the booking portal, in which they questioned its readiness for such an emergency.

“When the children were playing in the daytime, they ran about in the building and found that the passage is narrow and complicated, and it is easy to get lost,” they wrote.

“The most important thing is that there were no clear fire escape signs. ‘What should I do if there is a fire,’ I asked myself then. Unfortunately it turned out to be a prophecy.”