Published: 14:39, November 28, 2022 | Updated: 14:39, November 28, 2022
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Epidemic control not related to fire deaths in Urumqi: Govt
By Cui Jia

COVID-19 epidemic control measures did not affect the evacuation of residents in the residential building fire that killed 10 people in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Friday, according to the local government.

The fire broke out on the 15th floor of a building in the Jixiangyuan residential area in Tianshan district at 7:49 pm on Thursday, and was put out by 10:35 pm. Ten people were killed and nine others were injured. The injured were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and are not in danger of losing their lives, Memtmin Kadeer, mayor of the city, told a news conference on Friday night.

The conference was held in response to claims that the entrance to the building was sealed due to epidemic control. The claims went viral on social media and triggered public outrage. People also questioned whether rescue efforts were delayed and whether residents were unable to evacuate because of the measures.

"It has been confirmed by sources from the community and the fire crew that none of the apartment or building doors were sealed, and videos circulating online showing them sealed with wire were filmed elsewhere and maliciously cut with footage of the accident," said Hamit Memetmin, head of Tianshan district.

According to a report published by Xinjiang Daily on Saturday, the fire first broke out in the apartment of Abuyisham Memetali on the 15th floor. Around 7 pm, the breaker on the electric panel in the apartment tripped while she was taking a bath. She switched it back on and later, her daughter noticed a power board in a bedroom was on fire and called for help. The bed linen caught fire and the flames spread, eventually reaching the 17th floor.

Unable to extinguish the fire, the mother and daughter fled. They encountered a community worker who had heard about the fire, which produced toxic fumes that reached as high as the 21st floor.

They evacuated with the other residents.

When they reached the ground floor, burning objects were falling in front of the exit, so they entered an apartment on the ground floor and climbed out of the window to escape.

Munire Ahemet, a resident in the building, asked for help through the Jixiangyuan residents' WeChat group after the corridor was filled with dark smoke and she found it difficult to breathe. On the instructions of the fire crew, she and her family remained in their apartment to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and waited for help. They were soon rescued.

"The door to the building was kept open and it had never been tied up with wires or sealed," Munire told Xinjiang Daily.

Many parts of Urumqi, which has a population of about 4 million, have been placed under static management — essentially, confined to their homes — to contain the outbreak, some of them for as long as 100 days. Hamit said that Jixiangyuan has been designated a low-risk area since Nov 12 when the local situation improved. He added that residents have been able to leave their apartments and move around the residential area on a staggered basis since Nov 20.

At the news conference on Friday night, Li Wensheng, head of the Urumqi Fire and Rescue Department, said the fireproof door on the floor where the fire broke out had been left open, which enabled the spread of fire, and the road to the building was occupied by other vehicles, making it difficult for fire engines to reach the site quickly.

Li said the department's command center received the emergency call at 7:49 pm and the first three fire engines and 15 firefighters arrived at the scene at 7:54 pm. In all, 20 fire engines and 94 firefighters were involved in the rescue, and the fire was extinguished at 10:35 pm.

"The fire crew had to remove parking bollards and vehicles blocking the way before the fire engines could get to the building," Li said. According to Xinjiang Daily, the bollards weren't put in place for epidemic control purposes, but were part of routine traffic management in the residential area.

Memtmin Kadeer, mayor of the city, said Urumqi has set up an investigation team and those found to be negligent in the performance of duties before and during the accident should be held accountable.

On behalf of the local government, the mayor expressed deep condolences to the victims, extended sympathy to the families of the bereaved and the injured, and apologized to the people of the city.