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Fireworks Blamed for Beijing Hotel Fire


Chinese officials say errant fireworks are to blame for sparking the fire that destroyed a hotel next to the new CCTV headquarters building in downtown Beijing.

On the fifteenth and final night of the Lunar New Year celebration Monday, fireworks exploded over every street corner in Beijing.

But investigators suspect it was a planned fireworks display that set fire to the unoccupied Mandarin Oriental hotel, a high-rise property under construction and owned by China Central Television, China's state-run television broadcaster. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu made these comments to reporters on Tuesday.

Jiang said authorities believe the fire was caused by illegal fireworks set off by people working with the television broadcaster.

Reports indicate that CCTV went against police orders and hired a company to launch fireworks that were much more powerful than the general public is permitted to use. Fireworks are a traditional part of the Chinese New Year celebration and are believed to ward off evil spirits and ghosts. The largest displays are usually saved for New Year's Eve and the fifteenth day of the Lunar year, also known as Lantern Festival.

Spokeswoman Jiang said the fire began around 8:30 p.m. Monday night and was extinguished by 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

Jiang says almost 600 firefighters were fighting the blaze. Several firefighters were injured and one died of toxic fume inhalation.

The hotel was empty at the time of the fire, but one construction worker from the site was also injured.

Construction on the Mandarin Oriental hotel was nearly completed and the property was scheduled to open this year. The 241-room hotel stood 44 stories high, and right next to the new CCTV tower.

Dubbed by many Beijingers as the "Big Underpants" because of its shape, the CCTV tower is considered one of Beijing's most daring architectural projects built in the run-up to the Olympics. Also set to open in 2009, the CCTV tower is already a fixture on Beijing's skyline.

Both the hotel and the main tower were designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas' Office of Metropolitan Architecture

The entire CCTV complex cost $710 million.

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