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BEIJING - Setting off fireworks, a Chinese New Year holiday tradition to ward off evil spirits, has been blamed for the increasing number of fires across the country during the festive season.
Firefighters fought 5,945 fires nationwide during the 32-hour span from the beginning of Wednesday, the last day of the previous lunar year, to 8 am on Thursday, according to figures released by the fire control bureau of the Ministry of Public Security on Sunday.
That figure, for the 32-hour period, was about 80 percent of the 7,480 fires across the country during the entire seven-day Spring Festival holiday last year, according to previously released figures.
Fireworks were the main culprit for this year's rash of fires, but dry weather in North and East China also played a role, the bureau said.
Firefighters in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning province, on Sunday inspect the debris of a local luxury hotel, which was set ablaze by fireworks on Thursday. [Photo/ Xinhua]
Fireworks and firecrackers traditionally welcome the lunar new year to ward off evil spirits. At the peak, usually midnight of New Year's Eve, residents rush to their doorsteps or the roadside to ignite explosives, filling the air with sulfur and thick smoke.
But the festive celebrations come at a cost, with injuries and fires.
In Beijing, two people were killed and 223 injured between the start of Wednesday and 2 pm on Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the number of fireworks-related fires in the city was up by 178 percent year-on-year, said a statement from the Beijing Municipal Office on Fireworks and Firecrackers.
The two people killed in Beijing, both men, died after setting off shoddy fireworks in the early hours of Thursday, the office said.
The 223 who suffered injuries had wounds ranging from eye injuries to burns, it said.
In Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning province, fire gutted a five-star hotel early on Thursday. Local officials said there were about 50 people in the hotel at the time and all were evacuated, without any reported casualties.
The blaze was probably triggered by fireworks igniting external decorations, police said. Investigations into the cause are continuing.
The ministry's fire control bureau on Sunday required local authorities to be on 24-hour duty during the remainder of the holidays, particularly in drought-plagued Beijing, and Hebei, Henan and Shandong provinces that have not seen effective rainfall since October.
The residue from fireworks also caused air pollution in cities. On Friday, 27 of the 86 monitored cities were polluted, according to figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Only two cities, Lhasa in Southwest China's Tibet autonomous region and Zhanjiang in South China's Guangdong province, enjoyed excellent air quality.
Sulfur dioxide and particulate matter were the major pollutants for most cities, monitoring figures show.
Wei Hongming, deputy director of the environmental monitoring station in Wuhan, in Central China's Hubei province, told reporters that fireworks were the main reason for the city's air pollution, as they released large amounts of smoke, dust and sulfur dioxide.
Air quality also suffered as car usage increased from Friday as people visited relatives and friends, experts said.
China Daily - Xinhua