China Tightens Lax Fire Safety

CHINA has ordered a crackdown on public firetraps after the latest in an outbreak of disastrous blazes that caused hundreds of casualties.

Following a Dec. 8 fire that destroyed a crowded movie theater filled with children in Xinjiang Province, the Chinese Cabinet directed local officials to inspect all dance halls, cinemas, hotels, theaters, restaurants, and stores and force compliance with safety regulations.

The emergency circular warned that public places failing to meet central standards would be shut down. It ordered local police and fire units to step up fire-safety education and monitoring of construction projects.

The government's new pledge to enforce fire protection was triggered by a rash of infernos that have killed more than 500 people in the last month.

Amid a runaway building boom, China has been plagued with substandard construction, dangerous furnishings that produce toxic fumes, poor fire-safety enforcement, a corrupt building inspection system, and inadequate firefighting equipment and efforts.

More than 300 children were killed and many critically injured in the latest fire at the cinema. Local firemen were inexperienced and slow to respond, said a local broadcasting official reached by telephone. Windows were barred and only one of the theater's four entrances was open. ''This is a tragedy,'' he said. ''There was a lot of chaos in the rescue which made it worse.''

Chinese officials admit that 1994 will be one of the worst years ever for fire safety. Nearly 30,000 fires have killed more than 1,500 people and injured more than 2,700 others, according to the officialChina Daily.

Like many developing countries, China has stressed economic development over health and safety measures, despite its official status as a socialist workers' state.

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