CHINA> Regional
Arson not ruled out in bus inferno
By Huang Zhiling and Wang Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-08 09:39

CHENGDU: Passengers say they smelled gasoline moments before flames engulfed a bus here Friday.

Dong Dingxiao was standing in the back of the bus when he noticed the smell of gasoline and heard somebody shout "the oil bottle has turned over."

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"I saw the flame spreading from the back of the bus to the front as if it had come from a flamethrower in a film," he said.

Chen Kuanwen, a first grader at the Chengdu Railway Transport School, was on the last row of the bus. He said he saw a man in front of him overturn a bottle of liquid and then smelled gasoline.

The China Youth Daily interviewed eight survivors of the fire. Six mentioned smelling gasoline.

Arson has not been ruled out, said Hu Qinghan, head of the city's communications committee.

Another two people died in hospital yesterday, bringing the death toll from the fire to 27.

They were a 69-year resident from Tianhui town in the northern suburbs of Chengdu and a 17-year-old student from a vocational school in the town. Both men were on the No 9 bus running from the town to the Chengdu Railway Station North.

"Ninety-five percent of their bodies were burned. They perished despite the best medics, medicine and equipment from two hospitals," said Yang Wei, chief of the city's health bureau.

According to Cao Yong, head of the Chengdu Military Region General Hospital, which is treating 44 of the 72 people still recovering in hospital, there are two doctors and six nurses for each survivor.

Despite their efforts, 18 remain in critical condition while the other 54 are in stable condition, Yang said.

A press conference organized by the Chengdu municipal government on Saturday said spontaneous combustion or machine failure might not be the cause of the inferno. The municipal government said there was no evidence of an explosion.

Buses in Chengdu are taken out of service after 10 years or 500,000 km. But the bus engulfed by fire had been used for less than five years and traveled less than 270,000 km, Hu said.

The bus driver, Luo Pei, 45, was named a model worker in last year's earthquake relief by his company. Luo, who got his driver's license in 1994, has driven buses for eight years and has never violated any law, Hu said.

The bus' engine and transmission strip were intact. After the incident, its oil tank had 107 liters of diesel oil - the same amount the bus received before the incident.

Firefighters in Chengdu said only seats were combustible on a bus. If it had been spontaneous combustion, it would have burned from the bottom to the top. But the fire on Friday burned from the inside and the top of the bus.

All this pointed to an inflammable being taken onto the bus, they said anonymously.