The north wing building of the new CCTV tower is on fire, which is still spreading, in downtown Beijing Monday February 9, 2009. Police have conducted traffic control around the scene. [Xinhua]
It burned like a towering inferno turning the sky over Beijing's central business district (CBD) a bright red last night.
The fire in the 44-story luxury hotel beside the iconic headquarters of State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) started around 8:30 pm when the sky over the capital was aglow with fireworks.
People were still busy celebrating Lantern Festival when word about the fire spread.
Many people living in and around the CBD rushed to the site to see first hand the inferno. Those at home turned on their TV sets or logged on the Internet to get the latest news, looking especially for photographs and video images.
Though the blaze abated late last night, police feared the 159-m-tall, 241-room Mandarin Oriental Hotel could collapse.
One Witnesses said sparks from fireworks set off during Lantern Festival celebrations could have started the fire. But police did not corroborate their account.
There were no reports of deaths but six firefighters were injured trying to control the blaze. Though it was not clear whether there were people inside the building, some witnesses said a few lights were on just before the blaze started.
The hotel was used during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but it was to open officially only in the middle of this year.
The north wing building of the new CCTV tower is on fire, which is still spreading, in downtown Beijing Monday February 9, 2009. Police have conducted traffic control around the scene. [people.com]
More than 1,000 people were evacuated from around the site and traffic restrictions were imposed around the spot, including the East Third Ring Road.
The entire hotel building was engulfed in flames, billowing huge plumes of smoke and showering the ground below with embers.
One witness said he saw smoke coming out of the hotel's roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks showered it with sparks. But neither the firefighters nor police could determine whether that caused the fire.
"Smoke came out for a while and then there was a fire," Li Jian said. The building lies on the northern edge of a complex that includes the CCTV headquarters.
"It's horrible," said a woman surnamed Chang, who lives on the 19th floor of a building about 1 km from spot. "There are thick black smoke and high flames. At first, the fire was only in the top floors but now the entire building is engulfed in flames," she said.
The CCTV headquarters and the Mandarin Oriental were designed by Rotterdam-based firm OMA, and both were nearing completion.
Beijing tightly restricts the use of fireworks in the downtown area, but the rules are waived for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Yesterday, the last day of Spring Festival, saw people set off barrages of fireworks in the little open space they could get.
Erik Amir, a senior architect with OMA, said the fire had destroyed years of hard work. "It really has been a rough six to seven years for architects who worked on this project," he said. He rushed to the site after hearing of the fire.
"I think it's really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public," he said.