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Dropped cigarette blamed for fatal mall fire
Updated: 2004-02-18 17:22

A fire that killed 53 people at a shopping mall in Northeast China's Jilin Province was caused by a cigarette dropped into flammable materials, and police have detained a suspect, the government said Wednesday.

A fire engulfs the Zhongbai Commercial Plaza in the city of Jilin in Northeast China's Jilin Province Sunday, killing 53 people and injuring 71 others. The cause of the blaze is still unknown. [newsphoto]

The suspect was identified as Yu Hongxin, a 35-year-old man who worked in a storeroom where the blaze started.

The fire at the crowded Zhongbai Building in the northeastern city of Jilin was one of a pair of blazes Sunday in China that killed a total of 93 people. They added to a string of deadly accidents in China and prompted the government to announce a nationwide safety crackdown.

``Experts confirm that the reason for the fire was a cigarette dropped onto flammable materials'' in a storeroom, Xinhua said. ``Local police have detained the criminal suspect.''

No further details were given on whether he started the fire deliberately.

Also Wednesday, government newspapers in Jilin published an apology by provincial Gov. Hong Hu.

``As the provincial governor and principal person in charge of production safety, I feel terribly bad,'' the apology said. Hong expressed remorse to ``all the people of the province and the dead and injured.''

The second fire Sunday, at a bamboo temple in the village of Wufeng, Zhejiang Province, killed 40 women as they worshipped. Authorities blamed burning incense and have detained a man accused of building the temple illegally.

Investigators, including specialists sent from Beijing, questioned dozens of people in the search for the cause of the Jilin fire.

On Tuesday, Xinhua said fire extinguishers in the mall weren't used to fight the blaze, and investigators were trying to figure out why.

Two weeks ago, 37 people were killed in a stampede during a festival in Beijing celebrating the Lantern Festival.

In December, a gas well blowout in the western region of Chongqing killed 243 people, and authorities suspect oil company workers dismantled safety features and mishandled drilling equipment.

In the newest safety crackdown, announced late Tuesday, local officials were ordered to ``step up their measures ... to prevent any major accidents involving great human and property losses.''.

Authorities plan to require factories and others to pay more compensation for injuries and deaths in order to give them an incentive to invest in safety.

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