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Two fires in China kill 92, injure 71
Updated: 2004-02-16 08:43

Chinese firefighters try to extinguish a fire at five-story shopping mall in Jilin City in northeastern China's Jilin Province, Feb. 15, 2004. [Xinhua]
Twin fires killed 92 people in two Chinese cities on Sunday; one swept through a temple full of pilgrims, the other hit a crowded shopping mall where panicky shoppers jumped from windows to escape the blaze.

Officials said at least 53 people were killed and 71 injured when fire broke out on the second floor of the busy four-story Zhongbai Commercial Plaza in the Jilin City of Northeast China's Jilin Province, which housed shops, a dance hall and a bath house.

Most of the victims were customers on the third and fourth floors enjoying baths and billiard games, an official at the Jilin city government said.

"Shoppers on the second floor where the fire started were pretty lucky because they were able to run away," he said.

Authorities were still investigating the cause. A preliminary investigation indicated the fire started in a temporary storehouse near a boiler room.

Witnesses to the Jilin mall fire said many people, bundled in thick coats against the sharp cold, jumped from top floors. Wooden boards which were used to carry the dead and injured later lay strewn around the center, wet with blood.

An official at Jilin's Central Hospital said many of the injured suffered from smoke inhalation or shattered their legs when they hit the ground after leaping.

"There are many leg injuries because they jumped," he said by telephone. "Today was Sunday, so the mall was packed with weekend shoppers."

The fire was believed to be China's most devastating accident so far this year, Xinhua said. Built in the 1990s, the shopping center held 111 shops and covered around 4,000 square meters (yards).

Xiao Yao, a manager of the Jilin shopping mall, said that firefighters and officials were mopping up after the fire: "The building is virtually black now and the firefighters have withdrawn," he said.

A separate fire tore through a makeshift bamboo temple full of pilgrims in the city of Haining in eastern China's Zhejiang province, killing 39 worshippers and injuring four, most elderly women.

Firefighters clear the charred ground after the blaze is put out. [newsphoto]

The fire at the city's Wufeng Village of Huangwan Town occurred at about 2:15 p.m. when pilgrims were worshipping. It was put out after about 30 minutes.

Investigation suggested that negligence led to the blaze.

About 60 older women from nearby villages had regularly assembled at the straw-thatched hut to pray and to burn incense and candles, Shanghai's Oriental Morning Post said.

State television said the blaze razed the structure. Television showed clothing strewn on the charred ground and investigators combing the site behind a red, white and blue cordon.

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