1 killed, 7 wounded in China hotel fire

Police suspect fireworks to be the cause of the blaze at the 40-story Mandarin Oriental.
Police in China say a fireworks display may be to blame for a massive fire at a newly constructed, unoccupied luxury hotel that killed a firefighter and wounded seven other people in central Beijing Monday.

The firefighter died of smoke inhalation, Beijing officials said Tuesday. The others who were injured — six other firefighters and a construction worker — were recuperating in hospitals. The fire at the 40-story Mandarin Oriental began as crowds watched a nearby fireworks display marking the end of Lunar New Year celebrations. Fred Rice, a British national who lives in Beijing, told CNN that “the top of the building was exploding.” See photos of the blaze » “We weren’t sure if it was gas canisters or what. It was a spectacular sight for sure,” he said. Watch flames devour the hotel » “It was spreading incredibly fast,” said another witness, Stephen Chaytor. “It went from small flames to being totally engulfed in flames.”

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The fire reached past the 30th floor, but did not spread to any adjacent buildings. The hotel is next to a newly constructed tower for China Central Television (CCTV), but no one has moved into that building either. The blaze erupted in the final hours of new year’s celebrations as people set off fireworks across the city. Watch dramatic video of the fire from iReporters in Beijing » Beijing residents were supposed to stop selling and lighting fireworks by midnight, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The modern, angular building was a sign of Beijing’s recent transformation and modernization. It had been scheduled to open late last year, but the opening was postponed until this year, though most of the building had been constructed.

iReport.com: Eyewitnesses worried ‘building might topple’ According to its Web site, the Mandarin Oriental-Beijing is the flagship property in China for the Mandarin Oriental hotel chain. The tower stands more than 500 feet high and contains 241 rooms, Xinhua reported.