COVID-19 epidemic control measures did not affect the evacuation of residents in the fire that killed 10 people in a residential building in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Friday, the local government and official newspaper said.
The fire broke out at 7:49 pm on Thursday, and was put out at around 10:35 pm. Ten people were killed and nine others were injured after a fire broke out on the 15th floor of a building in the Jixiangyuan residential area in Tianshan district. The nine injured have been hospitalized for treatment due to inhalation of smoke and are not in danger of losing their lives, Memtmin Kadeer, mayor of the city, said in a news conference on Friday night.
The conference came after claims the door to the building was sealed due to epidemic control went viral on social media, triggering outrage from the public. People also have questioned whether rescue efforts had been delayed and residents couldn't evacuate the building because of epidemic control measures.
"It has been confirmed by sources from the community and fire crews that none of the doors to the apartments or the building were sealed, and videos circulating online showing they were sealed with wire were filmed elsewhere and put together with footage of the accident with ill intention," said Hamit Memetmin, head of the Tianshan district.
According to a report published by Xinjiang Daily on Saturday, the fire first broke out in the apartment of Abuyisham Memetali on the 15th floor. Around 7 pm, the breaker on the electric panel in the apartment tripped when she was taking a bath. She then put it back on. Later her daughter noticed a power board in a bedroom was on fire and cried for help. Soon the bed linens were also caught on fire, which started to spread and eventually reached the 17th floor.
Failing to put out the fire, the mother and daughter then fled the apartment. They met a community worker who heard about the fire that had spread fast, producing toxic fumes reaching the 21st floor. They ran downstairs with other residents.
When the group reached the ground floor, objects on fire started to fall in front of the exit to the building. They entered an apartment on the ground floor and climbed out of the window to escape.
Munire Ahemet, a resident in the same building, asked for help in a WeChat group of Jixiangyuan residents after seeing the building's corridor was filled with dark smoke and finding it difficult to breathe. Following instructions from the fire crew, she and her family stayed in the apartment to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and waited for help. Soon they were rescued by the fire crew.
"The door to the building has been kept open. Also, it's never been tied up with wires or sealed," Munire told Xinjiang Daily.
Many parts of Urumqi, which has a population of about 4 million, have been put under static management to contain the COVID-19 outbreak there. Hamit said Jixiangyuan has been designated as a low-risk area since Nov 12 after the epidemic control situation had improved. He added residents have been able to leave their apartments and move around in the residential area on a staggered basis since Nov 20.
At the news conference on Friday night, Li Wensheng, head of Urumqi Fire and Rescue Department, said the fireproof door of the floor where the fire broke out had been open, which propagated the spread of fire, and the road leading to the building was occupied by other vehicles, making it difficult for fire engines to get to the site quickly.
Li said the department's command center received the emergency call at 7:49 pm and the first three fire engines and 15 firefighters arrived at the scene at 7:54 pm. A total of 20 fire engines and 94 firefighters were involved in the rescue, and the fire was put out at 10:35 pm.
"The fire crew had to remove the parking bollards and vehicles blocking the way before the fire engines could get to the building," Li said. According to Xinjiang Daily, the parking pollards weren't put in place for epidemic control purposes, but were part of routine traffic management in the residential area.
Memtmin Kadeer, mayor of the city, said Urumqi has established an investigation team and people found to be negligent in their performance of duties before and during the accident must be held accountable.
On behalf of the local government, the mayor expressed deep condolences to the victims, extended sympathy to the bereaved families, the injured and their families, and apologized to the people of the city.