China High-Rise Engulfed in Flames
The outer wall of a skyscraper owned by state-owned telecommunications company China Telecom was destroyed by a fire last Friday (Sept. 16).
Located in the Chinese city of Changsha within the Hunan province, the office high-rise was completed only 22 years ago in 2000. The structure stands 218-meters-high (715 feet) and is comprised of 42 floors, making it the 46th tallest building in the city.
Around 3:48 p.m. on Sept. 16, the Hunan Fire Department was notified on its official Weibo account that a fire had broken out at China Telecom’s No 2 Communications Tower in the city’s Furong District. In response to the call, the Changsha Fire and Rescue dispatched 36 fire engines and 280 firefighters from 17 stations to the scene.
In video footage of the blaze, office workers could be seen rushing from the building as orange flames seared through dozens of the building’s floors and thick black smoke billowed into the sky.
According to China Telecom, around 4:30 p.m., the fire was extinguished and firefighters continued rescue efforts. No casualties have yet been reported as a result of the incident; however, initial reports covering the fire indicated concern that numbers could have been in the hundreds.
The South China Morning Post shared shortly after the incident was contained that the building had been “seriously damaged.” While the extent of the damages is not clear, several videos circulating on social media revealed that the fire had almost completely burned through its facade.
In a preliminary investigation of the fire, Hunan’s fire department stated that the incident was triggered by the building’s outer cladding. State media outlets have also gone as far as to compare the “facade fire” to that of the tragic Grenfell Tower that occurred in west London in 2017 and killed 72 people.
Other Fires, Safety Concerns
In a report by The Guardian, reporters indicate that deadly fires are common in China, as relaxed building code enforcement and unauthorized construction made it difficult for people to flee burning buildings. Last year, the nation witnessed a warehouse fire in north-eastern Jilin province that killed 15 people and injured at least 25.
A month prior to the warehouse incident, a fire at a martial arts school in central Henan province killed 18 people, most of whom were children.
While the tragic deaths caused an uproar over fire safety standards, the most recent blaze at China Telecom’s facility also nods to China’s recent decision to ban all construction of any structure totaling more than 500 meters in height.
First announced in July 2021 by the China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the ban also instructs local authorities to limit towers that are taller than 250 meters. At the time, the organization cited quality problems and safety hazards linked to “loose oversight.”
The ban followed an “in-principle” ban on new buildings over 500 meters in 2020.
The order came in on the heels of instruction dictating not the height of buildings, but the style of them. At the beginning of April 2021, the Commission issued the “2021 New Urbanization and Key Tasks for Urban-Rural Integration Development” Notice.
Demanded by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the Commission officially placed the construction of “ugly” and “weird” buildings under strict restriction. The notice arrived in the first year of the “14th Five-Year Plan," a year of special importance in the process of my country's modernization drive.
Although the document doesn’t actually define what qualifies as “ugly” or “pleasing” to the eye, the notice follows Jinping's initial complaints about the “weird” buildings that first started popping up around 2014.
In the directive, the notice stated that local governments should construct buildings that are “suitable, economic, green and pleasing to the eye.”