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Festival fires rise but death toll decreases
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-08 06:20

There was a sharp increase in the number of fires reported during the first week of Spring Festival this year but loss of life, injuries and damage to property all decreased.

About 13,000 blazes were recorded nationwide from January 28 to February 4 a rise of 15.5 per cent over the same period last year, the Ministry of Public Security announced yesterday in Beijing.

In all, 63 people were killed and 47 injured in fires, down 41.1 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively, compared to last year. Direct damage to property was cut in half.

Ministry spokesman Wu Heping said the increase was as expected, considering more than 200 cities lifted bans on fireworks this year after 12 years of prohibition.

"The policy caters to traditional Chinese customs but puts huge pressure on our fire departments," said Wu. "In response to the policy, we had urged fire police at all levels not to leave duty during the festival, and increase patrol frequencies."

The efforts resulted in a sharp decrease in fire-related injuries, according to the ministry.

The biggest loss of life occurred at a temple fair in Linzhou, Central China's Henan Province, on January 29.

Burning firecrackers were thrown into a warehouse packed with fireworks, with the resulting devastating explosion killing 36 revellers and injuring a further 48.

The police have arrested four employees of the Lilin Firecracker Company, who are suspected of illegally buying and storing fireworks.

Pyrotechnics were banned in about 300 cities in 1988 for safety reasons, though firecrackers are believed to scare away evil spirits and attract the god of wealth to doorsteps, especially during Spring Festival. More than two-thirds of these cities lifted the ban this year to allow residents to celebrate a traditional Lunar New Year.

(China Daily 02/08/2006 page2)

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