Wildfire in Tibetan China Kills 22: Was Rescue Response Too Slow?

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File Photo, Getty Images

A grassland blaze in southwest China killed at least 22 workers who were trying to extinguish the flames. Another three were severely burnt. 

Among the dead were 15 soldiers, five civilians and two forest workers.  The victims were probably trapped when heavy winds caused the blaze to flare up just as workers thought it was extinguished. China’s fire safety practices have been called into question before, most recently when shoddy workmanship and flammable construction materials led to the fiery collapse of a Shanghai apartment building.

(See pictures of Shanghai citizens mourning the victims of the deadly blaze.)

The fire killed at least 58 people and sparked national outcry. Chinese officials defended their response, but experts say a lack of fireproof equipment, ladders and hoses that were too small to reach the 229-ft.-tall structure and the flammable netting surrounding the building as reasons for the deaths.

As hundreds gathered to mourn in the streets of Shanghai, officials ordered a nationwide overhaul on safety and control measures. This time around, though, it wasn’t a building boom that started the fire. Dawu, in the Tibetan area of the Sichuan province where the blaze occurred is mountainous and grassy. Governor of the province, Jiang Jufeng, has ordered an investigation to find out the cause.

The response was timely, but there is no word yet on if the 22 deaths could have been prevented with better equipment or tighter safety controls.