A eight-storey building suddenly collapsed when local firemen were trying to put out a fire, leaving two dead on site and 19 buried in the ruins, of whom only one survived. How did the disaster occur and why was the event labeled the worst accident for firefighters since 1949?|
November 9 is fire prevention day in China. Posters are usually put up to warn people of the importance of fire control and possible ways of putting out fires. Shanghai and many other places also held fire-fighting drills this year. It wasn’t just a formality this time, especially after the big fire that had broken out less than a week before in a village in Hunan province. 20 firefighters had lost their lives, the youngest one only 17 years old.
More than 20,000 people gathered in Hengyang City in southern China's Hunan Province to mourn the more 20 firefighters who died from the collapse of a burning building when trying to put out a fire. The Ministry of Public Security posthumously honored them as martyrs for their heroic deeds.
Early on the morning of November 3rd, a fire burst out in an eight-story building in Xuanling Village of Zhuhui District in Hengyang, Hunan Province. Firemen rushed to the scene two minutes after the fire alarm.
Most of the residents woken by the heavy smoke had run downstairs, and were anxiously moving their belongings. But some of them were still trapped inside the burning building. The fire officers ordered the immediate evacuation of all the residents. The firemen were divided into two groups, one putting out the fire, while the other group, together with the civil police, rescued trapped residents.
They asked whether there was still any one up in the building. If there was anyone, tell them where and they would immediately send people to save them. The fire and heavy smoke made it hard to see anything, but they were still rushing into the building.
In the space of two hours, rescue workers consisting of firefighters and policemen dashed into the smoke-enveloped building and evacuated the people inside to safe places. By around 8 a.m., all the 412 people from 94 families had been safely evacuated. But in the process firefighters had been confronted by a tough problem.
The water inside the fire engine was soon used up. The firemen attached their hoses to the nearby fire hydrant to no avail, because of the low hydraulic pressure. Two of the fire-wardens immediately decided to assemble all the other fire fighting forces in the district with 9 fire engines to assist.
In order for the fire hoses to work better, the firemen tried to go near the fire and some even risked their lives to enter the hall of the first floor warehouse.
A large cloud of smoke suddenly belched out from the door of Entrance 5 right under my home. Two firemen used some tools to push in the door and the fire immediately rushed out with a loud noise. Then, all the firemen hurried there and tried to put out the fire.
It was said that this building was filled with many goods stored in the warehouse, mostly dried goods peddlers had deposited there; which were very flammable and got in the way of firefighters. They had to extinguish the fire and move these goods away at the same time.
By around 8 a.m., the fire on the outside of the building had been almost brought under control. The firemen didn’t even have time to eat anything. Some people sent bread and water and asked the firemen to take a rest for a while. But they refused; some had a bite of the bread and then walked toward the scene of the fire.
The source of the fire inside the building had not really been put out. After a short period of quiet, flames began to shoot out from the north lane. The fire was burning even more fiercely and the nearby building had been turned black. But the lane was too narrow for fire engines to get in. Besides, there was a high wall outside the burning building. Fire hoses were unable to reach the fire.
There was a fence beyond the outside wall. Fire hoses couldn’t reach the fire inside the warehouse. They had to climb up on or over the fence and hose the fire from inside. That was very hard to do.
To bring the fire under control and save residents’ property, some brave firefighters had climbed over the fence and gone down into the building. Several minutes later, these firefighters lost their lives. Some other rescue workers had climbed to a higher place and were hosing the flames. They had no time to escape when the building collapsed. A cameraman from Hengyang Daily newspaper was covering the news on the spot.
Xu Changguo, Cameraman of Hengyang Daily, said, “To tell the truth, I am nearly 50 this year and I’ve never seen a fire like this before. They (the firemen) were really deserving of respect. They were like “robots”, I mean they had a will of iron, I don’t mean anything else by that: we would use quotation marks while calling them “robots” in the newspapers. They never cared about their own lives.”
At 8:37 am, the disaster occurred. A journalist from Hengyang TV Station shot the picture of the scene. Without any warning, the eight-story building suddenly collapsed. Over 20 firefighters were buried under the debris. After a temporary period of chaos, policemen and other firemen rushed back to the ruins and tried to rescue their buried fellows. Four journalists and some slightly injured firemen were dragged out from among falling rubble.
The firefighters anxiously shouted names of their fellows, but they could never bring them back.
20 firemen lost their lives. In the final minutes of their lives, they were still fighting the fire.
One of my fellows was carrying the hose in his hands when the disaster occurred. He was found dead in the same position with the hose in his hands trying to take it inside. Another one was also found carrying the fire hose in his arms.
Rescue workers fought with the fire for about four hours. All the residents of the building were safely evacuated. Sources from the Ministry of Public Security said it was the worst accident for firefighters since 1949.