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Outcry after illegally parked cars block fire trucks

By Tan Yingzi in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-03 09:02
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Firefighters hose down a residential building in Chongqing early on Thursday morning to prevent rekindling after a fire broke out in the building on Wednesday. [Photo/China News Service]

A large fire in a residential building in Chongqing on Wednesday afternoon ended with no major casualties thanks to firefighters' timely rescue efforts, but illegally parked cars that blocked fire trucks' access to the blaze triggered heated public debate.

The fire broke out around 5 pm in a high-rise building in a densely populated residential community in Chongqing's Yubei district during the New Year's Day holiday. The fire started on a balcony on the second floor and spread to the top of the 30-floor building through external wall insulation and awnings, according to the results of a preliminary investigation.

The local fire and rescue team dispatched 38 trucks and 197 firemen to the site and they put out the fire at 7:20 pm. They rescued and evacuated about 260 people from the building. No casualties were reported, besides a few who were startled, choked by the smoke or sprained ankles during evacuation.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The local government has helped the affected residents find accommodation in nearby hotels.

The first emergency response vehicles to arrive at the scene were not able to enter the community because the passageway for fire trucks was packed with the private cars. A video showing dozens of people moving a white sedan off the road went viral online. Later, several cars were towed away by police to clear the way for the rescue trucks.

"The fire trucks arrived very soon but couldn't get in," said a resident surnamed Wu. "We were so anxious and angry. We worked together to move a car away."

The Jiazhou Garden residential community, one of the oldest commercial real estate projects in the city downtown, was built in 1997 and has 3,848 apartments.

It has no proper parking spaces as the project developer did not foresee the increasing number of private cars. Therefore, its narrow community roads and fire passageways have become the residents' parking lot.

The Ministry of Transport estimated the number of private cars in China reached 200 million by the end of last year. In many big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, limited parking space has long made illegal parking in fire passageways a headache for urban management.

Winter is the high season for fires and Chongqing has recently witnessed two major blazes. In both cases, fire passageways were blocked by illegally parked cars, impeding rescue efforts.

According to China's Fire Prevention Law, those who block fire control passageways will be given a disciplinary warning or fine of less than 500 yuan ($71).

"People always have wishful thinking that a fire will not happen to them. After this fire, people will probably soon forget the importance of the fire passageway again and park their cars in it if they fail to find a parking space," an opinion piece by Xinhua News Agency said on Thursday.

It said more severe punishment was needed for those who block fire control passageways and there was also a need to improve the fire facilities and parking spaces in residential communities.

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