A factory fire in eastern China raged out of control unnoticed for hours Monday, after local residents were unable to distinguish the smoke from the dense smog that has filled the region.
The official Xinhua news agency says the furniture factory in Zheijiang province burned for nearly three hours before residents noticed the blaze. It took 10 hours to extinguish the flames, which destroyed a large amount of furniture.
Much of China's east coast has experienced its worst air pollution in recent memory over the past several days. In Beijing, a thick blanket of brown smog reduced visibility to just 200 meters, with the tops of many of the city's massive skyscrapers disappearing in the haze.
At its worst, official air quality readings in the capital reached nearly 40 times the World Health Organization's
safe limit. Many hospitals were filled with patients complaining of heart or respiratory sicknesses.
The crisis has prompted an unprecedented amount of criticism of the government in China's state-controlled media, many of which published front-page commentaries on the issue. Government officials traditionally have downplayed the severity of the problem.
Facing increasing public outrage, China has taken steps in recent years to become more transparent about air pollution levels. It now publishes hourly updates online for more than 70 cities.
Conditions on Tuesday had improved slightly in the capital, as a cold front moved into the area. But officials warn that heavy smog will persist through Wednesday.
Beijing schools kept children indoors January 14, 2013, and hospitals saw a spike in respiratory cases following a weekend of excessive pollution in China's smoggy capital.
A teacher leads her students doing body exercise during class break in a classroom on a foggy day in Jinan, Shandong province, January 14, 2013. Heavy fog enveloped a large swathe of east and central China, with the city's residents being advised to stay
Cranes atop a residential building under construction in central Beijing, April 18, 2012.
Buildings and the Guomao Bridge are pictured amid heavy haze and smog in Beijing, October 29, 2011.
Visitors to Tiananmen Square shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas on a hot and hazy day, July 28, 2010.
Smoke billows from a chimney of a heating plant in Beijing, February 13, 2012.
Haze blankets the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, as seen from inside the Olympic Green area during the Olympics, August 7, 2008.
A coal-burning power station at night in Xiangfan, Hubei province, September 15, 2009.
Paramilitary policemen practice drills inside the Forbidden City amid haze in central Beijing, December 4, 2011.
Buildings in Beijing are pictured on a day with heavy haze and smog, October 28, 2011.